Allen Stone restores love for soul music at Vancouver show
Soul music has made its return, and his name is Allen Stone. This 24-year-old real-life son of a preacher man brought his infectious body-swaying energy to Vancouver's Electric Owl on Feb. 24 and left the audience electrified.
Stone is an independent soul singer and songwriter from Seattle who grew up with gospel music at his father's church. He has said that’s where he learned to feel music, rather than just hear it. Often compared with soul greats like Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Prince, his performance on Friday night made it clear that he intends to share that feeling with the rest of the world.
Opening act David Blair whet our palate with a set of acoustic pop rock love songs, including "Hurts So Hard," which began with a sampling of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," and the bluntly titled "Let's Make Out." Blair, a Vancouver-native, graciously accepted a fitting "He looks like Jason Mraz!" comment hollered from the crowd in the middle of his set. He also performed "We Are Canucks," a song he penned which was featured at last year's Stanley Cup Finals.
As the curtain reopened, Stone appeared with his five-piece band on the small but intimate brick walled stage. He wore his signature northwestern sweater over a denim shirt, a black feathered pork pie hat and grandma-style glasses. His long, tousled blonde curls add to his laid-back demeanor. You would never expect such powerful vocals from this young man, who has been called an "old soul" repeatedly by those who have heard him belt his socially conscious tunes.
Mostly performing tracks from his self-titled album released last October, he opened with "What I've Seen," which had the audience gyrating within its first measure.
With Stone touring almost all of 2012, he then showed us how much he needs "Sleep" but never forgets to "Celebrate Tonight." After a head bobbing, stank-face inducing performance of "Nothing to Prove," he challenged the audience to "get nasty" by dividing the crowd in half for a dance-off in front of the stage. One audience member undressed and bodysurfed the crowd, earning his team an automatic win.
Upbeat fan favourites followed, including "Your Eyes" and "Say So," which is featured in the theatrical trailer for Eddie Murphy's March movie release "A Thousand Words." Between songs, Stone turned the spotlight to his band members, an eclectic group who impressed individually with their solos. An audience member claimed to have found her future husband in the very fit and shirtless drummer.
The band briefly excused themselves from the stage for Stone's adults-only solo rendition of Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy," a nineties throwback welcomed by the crowd. Most captivating though was his cover of Bob Marley's "Is This Love," which he undeniably made his own. There’s no doubt Stone's falsetto reaches ridiculous heights in every song, but his Marley cover in particular elevated the vibe of the evening from soulful to spiritual.
Before singing "Contact High," his conscientious tune about our obsession with cell phones and Facebook statuses, Stone took a moment to remind his fellow generation of technology addicts that real connections happen between live people.
What is most extraordinary about Stone is his insistence on imparting a certain level of truth and purity through his music, even in moments like this between songs.
"Our greatest gift as human beings is the ability to make eye contact with another and have that other person really feel it," he preached. The audience, many with cell phone in hand, cheered in agreement.
Stone took it home with two you-done-me-wrong tracks, "Running Game" (from his 2009 album "Last to Speak") and "Satisfaction," a song about one-sided love with a heartless other. Returning to the stage for his encore, he hypnotized the whole crowd with his last and most political song of the night “Unaware,” the track he performed on Conan last October for his national television debut. It's also his most well-known song, garnering the most views on his YouTube channel.
Catching a show on Stone’s tour will leave you wondering why he still hasn’t signed with a record label, but with a growing audience by the day, he hasn’t had any trouble making bodies sway across North America and other parts of the world. His entrancing vocals and steadfast ability to stay true to himself restores listeners’ appreciation for real music and could very well be redefining what it means to be mainstream.