Thursday, October 30, 2014

Soulfest snapped

I arrived at Soulfest at Western Springs Stadium last Sunday (Oct 26) to the sounds of Wellington's Bella Kalolo, and managed to catch the last half of her set. She was in fine voice and her band was tight - in short, she killed it. She told the crowd how happy she was to be there - "I'm so excited to see the other people! I see myself every day, y'know, so that's not so exciting!"

Soulfest. Photo: Grant Apiata. Click on photo to enlarge

DJ TDK stepped up to play some tunes, then Aaradhna and her band took to the stage. She chose to start with a slow ballad, which sapped some energy from proceedings. Then she introduced the song 'Downtown', saying she put it out when she was real young, like 19. She said "If you know the words, sing along, and if you don't just pretend, you do!"

She covered Take another little piece of my heart (Janis Joplin) and funked it up - it grooved, in  a pleasant enough way. And then her band flipped it to a reggae skank - clever move. Aaradhna closed with Wake up, her band rendered P-Money's crisp production into something a bit bland, really. Then they skank it up at the end.

DJ LoKey steps up and gets on the mic and tells the crowd he's gonna play some of his favourite soul records from his collection, and drops Sade - Love is stronger than pride. Nice one, bro!

Musiq Soulchild, Soulfest. Photo:Grant Apiata

Musiq Soulchild and his band hit the stage, ten minutes later than the scheduled time. The key thing I got from his set was how much he got the crowd to sing his songs for him. He even started one song and got the crowd to sing most of the first verse. Do some work, bro!

He used his own music videos as a visual backdrop on the video wall at the back of  the stage. He ripped into some long, sustained, soulful notes mid-set, incredible range. He picked up the tempo late set and raised the energy. The crowd loved him.

A word about the crowd - everyone there seemed really happy to be there, to get to see their favourite artists. I didn't see any aggro all day, everyone was super excited. It was an excellent vibe.

DJ Reminisce cut and scratched up a storm, the crowd dug him A LOT. KC and the Sunshine Band, George Benson, Billie Jean, Midas Touch, all the jams.

Angie Stone, Soulfest. Photo: Grant Apiata. Click on photo to enlarge

I was really looking forward to seeing Angie Stone, and she did not disappoint. She arrived seven minutes late (none of the international acts hit the stage at their scheduled time), and played I want to thank ya, and then she started rapping! Damn, Angie B! Then she went to a break down, with some mad funky keyboard bassline, a la P-Funk.

She played a song off her latest album, for the 1st time on this tour, called Guilty. Both her female backing vocalists (Paula Champion and Shameia Crawford) took solo spots and were amazing. She dedicates a song for all the brothers, and thanks the kings (Maxwell, D'Angelo, Common, etc) sharing the tour with her.

Stone closes with I wish I didn't miss you - she starts the song, then tells her band to hold up, and says she met this young woman backstage (Pani), who was crying, as she was supposed to sing backing vocals for one of the earlier local groups, and she'd arrived late, so Angie said "Let's bring her on out. In fact bring the other girls too."

So, Pani, Bella Kalolo, and Aaradhana, all join Angie Stone onstage and gather round a mic, doing extra BVs. Angie then beckoned them to join her centre stage. She then told off Radz and Bella for taking selfies while up there.

Angie says shes going on vacation, and asks the crowd and Radz and co if they want to come? Cos she's going right now! So Angie says we're off to Jamaica, and her band slip into a reggae skank, while Angie sings "Me can't sleep, me can't eat anymore..." So dope.

Next vacation destination, says Angie, is... Puerto Rico...and then her band salsa it up, which inspires some great spontaneous dancing from Pani, see the clip below... incredible set.

DJ09 followed, and then we got Anthony Hamilton and his band (15 minutes late). He had a hard act to follow, as his three backing vocalists ran onstage, hyping the crowd. The first 30 seconds only had the onstage sound, til someone turned on the PA out front.

The first couple of songs were high energy, lots of super cool choreographed stage moves from Hamilton and nearly all his band. They were hugely entertaining.

Hamilton wrapped up with a stomping uptempo gospel number, featuring stunning solos from his backing vocalists, and extra tambourines from Angie Stone and band, watch below.

Hamilton thanked the crowd and makes his exit, then the band wrap up the song, and stay onstage, looking at each other. Hamilton comes back out - turns out he had time for one more song. He and his band had such great energy, they were a joy to watch. True showmen.

DJ's Hudge and T-Rice filled the next DJ slot, while we waited for Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def. His stage set took hardly any time to set up - two DJs - but he still arrived 15 minutes late.

While his DJs played a funky afrobeat tune, Mos Def casually strolled onstage scattering red and white rose petals onto the stage, from out of his hat. Freaky.

He rapped, sang, and crooned, and used the video wall to show the classic hiphop film Wildstyle. He played Ms Fat Booty, Travellin Man and Umi Says, and even threw in some Biggie. Not particularly engaging as a performer, but the fans in the crowd loved him. He closed by coming back out with bunches of roses to throw to the crowd. Flower power.

DJ Manuel Bundy played next, and did a utterly superb job holding it down between these two hiphop heavyweights. Respect to the don.

Common, in the middle of the crowd, Soulfest. Photo: Grant Apiata. Click on photo to enlarge

Common came running out, spitting rhymes as if his life depended on it. Dude meant business. He was joined by two DJs, a female backing singer, and a keys player.

He told the crowd he was very glad to be here, and it was his first time in New Zealand. Ah, hang on bro, I saw you at the Big Day Out back in January 2006, you even did some breaking and pulled off with a backspin. But the BDO organisers did put you on mid afternoon, so no surprise you may have forgotten it [Fat Freddys Drop came on after].

What about your surprise guest spot with Kanye West in March 2006 at the St James, ring any bells? Nope? Ah well... good to have you back, bro.

He jumped into the crowd, climbed up on the barrier, he was into it. Then he called a young lady named Talita out of the audience up onto the stage and sat her on a stool  and leaned in and sang Come Close to her, while every female in the crowd shot daggers at her. Then he danced with her. She swooned.

His set took in The Corner, Go, The Light, and he brings out Anthony Hamilton for a few songs. I spied Mos Def watching Common's set from the DJ booth, standing by Che Fu, who was readying himself for his DJ set.

Then next thing, Mos Def casually strolls onstage, and starts rhyming with Common. Damn, it was good. Mos Def seemed more lively than during his own set, like having another rapper to work off energised him - his own set never got past laidback, energy-wise. Then Common drops a freestyle, and manages to mention Queen st and K Rd, and Soulfest approves, loudly.

Common, Soulfest. Photo: Grant Apiata

Common tells the crowd "It all started with the DJ, the DJ..." and gives his two DJs their own spot, to cut and scratch up a storm, on Billie Jean, and then Ten Crack Commandments.

He wraps up his set by introducing each band member, as they then exit the stage, preceded by an elaborate handshake with Common. Then it's just Common and the backing beats, and that abruptly gets cut off. How rude. He tells the crowd "Even tho they cut our music off, you can never turn off the music in our hearts. Thank you."

Then as he exits, I see him walk back out, grab a mic stand and turn round, and it gets heated side of stage for a second, terse words appear to be exchanged, before Common's crew hustle him away from the stage crew giving him heat. He may have finished 25 mins late, but cutting his music off was disrespectful.

Che Fu DJed next, playing Team Dynamite's Coconut Lime, and singing his part too. He dropped Dam Native's The Son (and sang that), and Chains (sang that). Great songs, great singer. Shot, Che! Shame you had to listen to D'Angelo's drummer soundcheck over your set.

D'Angelo, with Jesse Johnson far left, Soulfest. Photo:Grant Apiata

D'Angelo's band started 27 minutes late - his crew seemed to take a long time soundchecking all the mics. D'Angelo entered and went and sat at a keyboard at the back of the stage, and sang into a mic that wasn't working. The sound eventually came right, and he hooked into some jazzy, soulful numbers, after a dreadful sludge psychedelic rock workout, featuring his guitarist, Jesse Johnson (The Time).

He played Left & Right and One Mo Gin, and finished the set, then came back out fro a brilliant version Untitled - How Does It Feel, with band members exiting one by one and D'Angelo back behind the keys, playing, not singing, as the BVs carried the song.

Finally it was just D'Angelo and his bass player Pino Palladino left onstage (shout out to my bass don dadas who went to Soulfest just to see Pino), and then Pino exited and it was just D'Angelo, who then sang a few more lines, and said good night (see 2nd clip below for how that unfolds  I found two clips but both have been taken down by Sony). It was a stunningly intimate moment for such a big scale event. And he pulled it off.

D'Angleo finished at 9.29, one minute before Maxwell was scheduled to play. He hit the stage at 10. DJ Reminisce was due to play after D'Angelo and was standing behind the turntable ready to go, but the organisers left the bro hanging, choosing instead to play some piped low volume, low energy dirge music thru the PA, which killed the vibe a bit. Bad call.

Maxwell hit the stage, coming on after a remix of Aint No Sunshine from Bill Withers played out over the PA. He was super slick, in his sharp white suit. The rain that had been threatening all day finally made an appearance, and started a light drizzle.

I managed 4 songs, then took that rain as my cue to bail. Hard to top D'Angelo, really. Saw a clip of Maxwell telling the crowd at the close of the set, "I really liked being down under ... It doesn't smell as bad as I thought it might!" Cheeky sod.

It had been a great day. Thanks, Soulfest. Let's do that again next year! The food selection was good and quick, the bar queues were long but seemed to move reasonably quickly, and the venue wasn't oversold.

For a first time, it worked pretty well. Apart from the problematic timing/scheduling issues, with acts starting late. That needs addressing. Feeling like you are missing out your fave songs by an artist cos it's running late is a bit crap. And no sign of the free CBD buses, despite a large sign outside the venue pointing to where they were supposed to be. Just a line of taxis, blocking the road.

General feedback I saw on Twitter and Facebook after the event seemed overwhelmingly positive, with many folks raving about what a great day it was (unlike the Australian shows, which attracted a raft of criticism online from attendees). And this person...

Good news - her Dad let her go to Soulfest. Winning!

I was standing not far behind this girl with her sign, but only ever saw the back of it. Turns out the front said this...

photo: Mya

Via MiaFM, from the end of Soulfest: "Watch as Stan Walker, Wairangi Koopu, Ria Hall and more come together backstage with a haka for Angie Stone, Anthony Hamilton, Mos Def, D'Angelo, Maxwell, and Common." Apparently Stan Walker later admitted that he split his trousers during this, and was going commando at the time. Doh.

Smooth premiere for Auckland's Soulfest - review by Shabnam Dastgheib
Concert review: SoulFest, Western Springs - NZ Herald review by Lydia Jenkin
Soulfest: review
Soulfest: review

Both NZH and Stuff reviewers commented on Common's set getting cut short, and on D'Angelo's physical appearance.

The Stuff reviewer also apparently didn't read the schedule, failing to notice there were DJs between acts, claiming there were "such long and silent set changes between a few of the acts ... A lack of MCing between artists left the crowd to entertain themselves - it would have been good to see some music or some activity on the stage during the set-ups to keep the energy going." UM, WHAT? 

I heard DJ LoKey on the mic several times, an MC from MaiFm came onstage to do some giveaways to the crowd at one point, and Che Fu was on the mic during his DJ set. Maybe the reviewer was too far away from the stage to see the DJs?

From Australia, a report on the chequered history of Soulfest's Australian promoter, John Denison. 

I pulled together a playlist of Soulfest Akld live clips...  enjoy!


TommeeT said...

Nice post Pete - choice!
Saw Common at Big Day Out in January 2006 too. He had a tight as band. But it was the penultimate slot in the evening as Fat Freddy's Drop closed the night on those two stages.

Remember it well - was the first time I experienced the 7-headed Freddy's monster. Also as soon as Common finished up Mu was on stage jamming sparsely on his MPC, carrying on the beats DJ style. The band and sounds continued to build and build. By the time Dallas and the laydess were on stage in full flow was about a 20 mins later.

Pure genius - musical magic!
(& fan for life)

Peter McLennan said...

thanks, Tommee T. I have a clear memory of Common playing mid afternoon, with only a DJ. Interesting.