Inside was a giant, heaving mass of bodies which in the half dark looked like The Blob pulsating with loud laughter, liquor, and the remnants of cigarette smoke. Any more people allowed in and people would have had to start perching on the bar.
The reason for this excited crowd took the stage at around midnight. In a tuxedo with a red ruffled shirt Aloe Blacc arrived on stage with a blinding smile after a long instrumental introduction from his band The Grand Scheme. Looking for all the world like a young Sam Cooke--handsome and nimble--Blacc launched into his first tune "Hey Brother" with the crowd clapping along, unbidden. If the crowd starts clapping in time to the music without being asked, you know that they've been won over.
After the first couple numbers Aloe Blacc welcomed his adoring fans to his Church of Love and Happiness. A church based in the depths of his soul music that welcomed all creeds, races, classes and genders with open arms and considered itself only with (you guessed it) love and happiness. Sounds like cheesy gimmick, right? I assure you that it was nothing if not sincere. Throughout the set Blacc had the crowd express their love for one another, and before the song "You Make Me Smile" he even had the crowd yell out the name of someone who made them smile or hug the people that they came with.
The crowd appreciated his sweet numbers, especially when he grooved along the stage in time with his three backup singers, but what they really came for was his darker songs. That's where Blacc broke out this year. His single about joblessness and desperation, "I Need A Dollar" resonated strongly with a lot of people. There aren't a lot of singers who are willing to bring up such dire subject, but an honest reflection of the situation we're in is desperately needed. It takes guts to take such a painful subject and make it palatable. His number "Politician" also struck a chord with the audience especially when he talked about hungry wolves dressed as sheep.
The set primarily was made up of songs from his two albums, but Aloe Blacc made plenty of room for covers. Showcasing his gorgeous voice he tackled everything from Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean," Velvet Underground's "Femme Fetale," The Mamas and The Papas' "California Dreaming," Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry," and even Green Day's "Basket Case" got a soul makeover. The band didn't miss a note. The Grand Scheme played every cover as if it were their own, relishing in their solos without stepping on the others. Blacc closed out the night in the early morning hours entreating us to make a CD with ten songs that we loved on it and give it to a small child. "Can you imagine being the first person to introduce them to Stevie Wonder," Blacc smiled. "What a gift." Because that's really what he's all about: spreading joy. Not blustering bravado or sexual conquest. There is something deeper in Blacc's music. In a sea of pretenders a true soul man really sticks out.