Raphael Saadiq, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Luke Grundy
Monday 02 May 2011 00:00

Raphael Saadiq and his band have just come out to play their encore and we should all be grateful that they are back on stage – not just because their performance has been brilliant, but because there would have been a stampede had they failed to return.

Saadiq, who is in his mid-forties, is enjoying his highest level of success to date. His unashamedly throwback brand of soul music has hooked the ears of an audience too young to remember Stax and Motown, yet it is still persuasive and catchy enough to endear itself to those who bought Otis Redding LPs the first time round. Watching Saadiq's performance in front of such a packed crowd as this, it is hard not to think of Redding or Marvin Gaye or Wilson Pickett. The audience hangs on his every word, whether belted out or softly spoken.

Throughout a sensational medley of tracks from the brilliant 2008 album The Way I See It, Saadiq's band fires on all cylinders, smoothly segueing between tracks and effortlessly switching gears. Saadiq's vocals give personality to every song, from the irrepressibly funky "100 Yard Dash" to the swinging "Sure Hope You Mean It". He is a born performer but he is also a talented band leader, directing his tight-as-a-drum backing group with both vocal intonations and old-fashioned blues signalling.

The standout track is an expanded version of the recent single "Good Man" that is filled not just with wonderfully pained, plaintive lyrics but also a succession of different grooves which slide effortlessly into one another. Rarely does a show feel as polished as this, and yet it also has a relentlessly energetic, toe-tapping core: there is more than just veneer to admire here.

While there is a slightly overlong outro and moments where the mood briefly lulls, there is no doubting the captivating ebullience of Saadiq's performance. No-one, on stage or in the crowd, can resist the best numbers and there is a refreshingly uninhibited vibe about the venue. Were this show to last four hours, very few people would leave.

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