I'm no Jamie Lidell neophyte. I've seen him play live many times before
(in New York City, my former hometown and Lidell's current one) and devoured each of his three electro-soul solo records with gusto. So last night's show shouldn't have been surprising. I was prepared for how great Lidell's emotive British-Otis-Redding voice would sound live.
And I was ready for his charming, hammy stage banter. I even knew to brace myself for the intimacy of the Doug Fir, as every other place I'd ever seen Lidell play was easily five times as large as the small log cabin-themed room on Burnside.
But still, I was not prepared for this.
Though he has toured with backing instrumentalists before, I am most familiar with Lidell as a one-man band who samples and layers his own sounds and furiously twiddles knobs to recreate his songs live. But his brand new, kick-ass, live three-piece band is a revelation
(his percussionist/back-up singer Guillermo Brown is especially impressive. Somebody get that guy a record deal!)
Liberated from the shackles of being the sole music-maker and unchained from the constraints of standing behind table full of electronic equipment, Lidell can be looser and is finally free to give in to his theatrical, screaming-James-Brown bandleader impulses. He is the rare “indie” artist that really puts on a show (rather than just staring at his shoes pretending to be brooding or cool), and not only has he aped the musical style of old R&B/funk/soul showmen, but also their onstage charisma.
Wearing a red-and-black vinyl?/pleather?/leather? suit — which he joked throughout the night was made of Fruit Roll-Ups and constantly threaten to eat — Lidell was a rare combination of musical prowess, sex appeal (especially on his ode to his lover's ass, “Your Sweet Boom”) and sense of humor. Not content to simply play through his most recent album, Compass
, he constantly engaged his audience, asking how we were doing or if we were “feelin' alright” in his posh accent. Admittedly, I didn't love Compass
as much as his last two albums, but his energy and dexterity as a live performer has made me reconsider songs like the record's repetitive acoustic title track, the sing-along-worthy funk stomp “The Ring” and the Prince-ly electro jam “I Wanna Be Your Telephone.”
Those of us who remember Lidell from his techno days or those early post-Multiply gigs weren't disappointed last night, either. Lidell took time out to dismiss his roaring band and played solo sampler star during one of the show's highlights. He can still deftly layer his voice — which is as comfortable in his creamy high tones as it is in his rich, cocoa basslines — on the spot to surprising effect, creating improvised doo-wop/electro-pop gems that were electric with possibility and got the audience screaming for more.
But the evening's highlights were the requisite sing-alongs on “Multiply” and the surprise solo second encore “Another Day,” the latter of which found the audience blissfully clapping along and providing the vocals while Lidell urged us on by singing an a cappella bass-line and grinning ear-to-ear.
It's rare to see a seen-it-all Portland crowd dancing maniacally and singing as loudly as a Def Leopard audience in an '80s video
, but the packed Doug Fir was as earnestly thrilled as any concert-goers I have ever seen.
The best part? Right before he left the stage for good, Lidell, who seemed honestly chuffed (to use his local parlance) at our enthusiastic response, said that the Portland crowd had the best voices of his whole tour, the American leg of which is almost over.