The 26-year-old Andwele "Dwele" Gardner is a soul artist with a difference: he may hail from the city that gave us Motown, but his brand of soul is anything but pop, and although the majority of songs are about women and love, he comes across as a respectful young man. The kind of boyfriend a woman could introduce to her parents without worrying.
It's probably why, when Dwele asks some raucous fans in the audience to join him on stage for set closer "Truth", a succession of women literally leap at the opportunity and grind up against Dwele, driving him to distraction. It's the only point of the gig that Dwele's band carries him.
Unusually for a soul gig, it's a good crack: Dwele engages the audience from the off, introducing the band (keys, drums, bass guitar and guitar played by an Ozzy Osbourne doppleganger) and inviting the audience to singalong and "holler" in lulls between a funky, uptempo opening. There's plenty of banter and laughs, including a woman who gives Dwele a rose and her telephone number on a piece of paper.
The first example of Dwele's major influences becomes apparent when the band jazzes up Tom Browne's "Jamaica Funk". But Dwele's whole look is a giveaway: cornrow hair topped by a cocked baseball cap, waist-length classic brown leather jacket, shirt, slightly baggy jeans and boxfresh white trainers is a modern twist on a 1970s, wholesome soul dandy.
It also sums up Dwele's distinctive brand of soul: there's no doubt where he's coming from when he performs "Too Fly" (about falling for an English teacher), the chorus is sung to Stevie Wonder's "Too High". Donald Byrd's "Think Twice", also borrowed by pioneering early 1990s hip-hop trio A Tribe Called Quest, also appears.
Dwele's rooted in vintage soul but isn't stuck in the past, overly reverential or an exercise in pastiche - there's a major hip-hop edge which betrays his original incarnation as a rapper. Half-sung, half-spoken rhyming couplets, beat poetry, straight rapping and manipulating his vocal chords to represent a DJ reflects Dwele's schooling with Detroit's most famous pre-Eminem/D12 hip-hop group, Slum Village.
Refreshingly, Dwele isn't a show-off. You don't feel as if you're here to marvel and be awed by his talent. This is a two-way gig. Dwele's a consummate host and a dab hand at improvising - explaining lyrics, asking the audience for requests and giving over the stage to a sharp-suited guy dancing, with pumping pistons for arms and legs.
A cynic might say Dwele's disguising the limited range of his tender, nourishing voice or repetitive subject matter (women, falling in love, heartbreak), but it feels genuine. It's one of the most important attributes for an authentic soul singer (and why Joss Stone lacks credibility): soul's about feeling and honesty rather than a sound. And Dwele's integrity makes you believe that as he matures and grows, so will his delicate hip-hop soul.Reuse content