Friday 24 July 2009

Seal - Edinburgh Playhouse 24 Jun 2009

(pictured) has come a long way since his 1991 self-titled debut album, most famous for the club hit Killer, a collaboration with Adamski. For Seal, genres are something that happens to other people. His songs can incorporate elements from rock, pop, soul, dance, house, R&B, all over the place. His biggest hit was Batman Forever soundtrack pop ballad Kiss From A Rose in 1995, but more recently he released and electro/dance album, System, and a covers album, Soul. Bizarrely, the covers, all of which are soul and R&B classics, seem to have brought him a new breed of young fans, making for an audience of adoring middle-aged women, people of all ages with a taste for the arty and eclectic, fans of club songs old and new, and young people discovering soul for the first time.

His set, of course, drew from all of his incarnations, but the strongest response was not to his classics, it was to the covers from the new album, especially A Change Is Gonna Come, written by Sam Cooke in the 1960s, and the James Brown hit It's A Man's Man's Man's World. He even made some of the covers into a mini-medley, playing one of his own songs during the mid-section, then returning to the cover to complete the song.

Seal's voice is flawless, perfectly replicating the rich, slightly gravelly, exotic tone of his records with practised ease. His stage presence is quite cool, but when he starts pandering to the screaming women and shaking his hips, it all gets a bit Rex Manning and tacky. This is a guy that's cool enough to earn the title "genre-spanning", but he can sometimes act like an 80s has-been.

The backing music is a a mixture of pre-recorded synths, violins and some backing vocals, and live guitar, bass and drums, played by a rather energetic backing band. The guitarist and backing vocalist towers over his array of pedals for creating every kind of guitar sound under the sun. The bassist plonks some sweeping chords on a heavy digital synthesizer for the intro before sprinting to the front of the stage and laying down essential basslines when the song kicks off. Both of them have so much energy that at times it feels like they're trying to steal the show. When Seal climbs the steps of his elaborate stage set-up to sing from above the drum kit, the bassist takes advantage and sprints around the front of the stage, rocking out like its his show. The drummer is eternally calm and never misses a beat, despite having to play to pre-recorded rhythms for the majority of the songs. This combination of live and samples allows them to create the complete sound of the album tracks, while still keeping the live component to the songs that brings them to life.

While a lot of his tracks on his first few records use a variety of varied instrumentation, the live effect comes over more a fishing net of interlinking sounds spread out over a sea of synthesis. We were all fish caught in his trap.
Myke Hall

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