Just a couple of months after releasing his fifth solo studio album titled Jimmy Lee, Raphael Saadiq performs at Blues Fest London 2019 at Indigo, part of the huge O2 complex in Greenwich, some eight years after his last show in London. If you’ve followed Raphael Saadiq’s musical journey from the 80s, or delved into his back catalogue, then you’ll already know he has a sound that has survived popular culture, whilst weaving itself through three decades of RnB.
Born in Oakland California Saadiq has established himself as a successful singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and out-right fonky-soul. He toured with Prince before leading the group Tony! Toni! Tone! and the then super-group Lucy Pearl alongside Dawn Robinson of RnB trio En Vogue and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from hip-hop’s own A Tribe Called Quest.
Support-act Charlotte Dos Santos set the Indigo in swing with her soulful jazz infused sound. With people still arriving at the venue and a very casual approach from the audience, Santos gently set the pace for a soulful evening. Her south american heritage fluctuates through her sound and for me her music could be fantasised into something you may of heard if Amy Winehouse said yes, yes, yes and cleaned-up her act.
Sadly her set was interrupted by some form of loud clicking noise, sounding like something between a popped-speaker and that horrible time-signature click music software makes. Somehow the band played through and even though it would maybe of felt a little more pleasing, drummer Ellis Dupuy managed to stay on beat and not slip into sync with that awful ‘click’.
Saadiq’s opening was Sinners Prayer, which is the first track on the album, Jimmy Lee, and a poignant song to begin the show as it holds all the qualities any fan would expect from Saadiq’s self-coined ‘Gospeldelic’ sound.
The album draws on the life & times of Saadiq’s late eldest brother ‘Jimmy Lee’ and incorporates personal experiences of love and injustice. It takes you on a journey through the trials and tribulations of addiction, whilst reflecting on social disparities and the understanding that these behaviours continue to be a part of todays society.
Theres a satisfying dynamic between the way Saadiq blends darker emotional story telling with a joyful sing-along vibe, it helps you connect with multiple layers of his songs at the same time. Likewise he’ll blend harder beats and dark melodies with a refreshingly light & joyous vocal sound with equally deep heartfelt content.
Following along with the album theme he went straight into So Ready, turning up the tempo with a song that paints a picture of Jimmy Lee with a happy-go-lucky attitude whilst struggling with regrets.
This World Is Drunk was next and kept you on track for the journey through the troubles of Jimmy Lee, whilst weighing heavy on the troubles of the world around him. The Indigo at the O2 felt like it had tuned to the vibe of Jimmy Lee and although the audience seemed reserved at times, it was a diverse crowd with a wide age range which only added to the depth and reach of Saadiq’s music.
Saadiq took moments to engage with the audience. Quoting his father “The duck was alright… the duck was all-right.., until he quacked, then they shot his ass”, to suggest he’s not keen on fame or maybe anxious about critics. Either way his music resonates with feelings and messages that pull the listener into his stories. He then blessed the show with a medley of works that he’d written, produced or accompanied, intuitively teasing the crowd with a riff or bass line before revealing some well known hits across contemporary RnB and Neo-Soul.
From Lucy Pearl’s Dance Tonight, to 90’s RnB trio Total’s hit single Kissing You, and D’Angelo’s grammy winning Untitled (How Does It Feel), to getting the crowd to sing Solange’s Cranes In The Sky and whilst noting geek-fame from his Marvel debut on the show Luke Cage. But my highlight was easily the openning bass-line which led into Sky, Can You Feel Me from one of my all-time favourite albums and Saadiq’s solo debut Instant Vintage.
The band featured guitarist and long-time collaborator Rob ‘Fonksta’ Bacon, who has undoubtedly played a crucial part in the Gospeldelic sound, alongside his own successes, including supporting George Clinton alongside Rapael Saadiq, Amp Fiddler and others, and is maybe Saadiq’s not so secret, secret-weapon.
The album Jimmy Lee has been compared to a mixtape (not a compilation, but DJ style), with songs ending suddenly and Saadiq himself claiming it to be one long song rather than a collection. The live show again followed this, which I have to say this was another bonus for me and one I’m sure any DJ would appreciate.
I’ve been selfishly waiting for an album to follow 2002s Instant Vintage, I struggled to make 2004’s Ray Ray fit into what I felt was the continuation I wanted to hear. I felt distracted by The Way I See and Stone Rollin’, both being great albums, but I’m so pleased to have experienced Raphael Saadiq live in 2019 which has given me everything I was looking for in the form of Jimmy Lee.
Live Review and Photography by nosa malcolm at Indigo O2 for Raphael Saadiq at Blues Fest London on Saturday 26th October 2019