Barely thirty minutes into his set last night at the Echoplex, Bilal was bringin' it on home--but that's not to say he'd already finished. Sure, his beaten-up black leather jacket had been stripped off, his t-shirt was drenched, and sweat clung even to his eyelashes, but as he removed his glasses and mopped at his face with a towel, he grinned. You ready? he seemed to ask. 'Cause I can go alllll night.
With lyrics like "Did I hear you say, 'come harder, baby,'" from Love for Sale's "White Turns to Grey," Bilal wasn't playing coy. Nor was he playing gently. Though he eased in with the first couple of songs, "Something To Hold On To" is only the equivalent of foreplay when considered against the rest of his body of work during the evening.
But like a good lover, he knows how to begin, and "Something To Hold On To" gives Bilal the chance to tell you what all he wants to do for you. Ranging from throatier sensuality to his signature ecstatic falsetto, the lyrics are a letter (or text) dashed off after waking at 4 AM in a lovesick sweat. He finished the song with soft riffs that almost sounded like pants.
Warm-up complete, he dove full force into his impressively active two-hour set. After seeing him perform well, but far less energetically, earlier this year at the UCLA Jazz Festival, his animation was a surprise.
That's probably due to the venue. Bilal's background is heavily jazz-influenced, and the Echoplex at midnight must feel a lot more comfortable than mid-afternoon on a cavernous outdoor stage. In fact, Bilal played the Echoplex like an even smaller, cozier hole of a club, bouncing beside his (excellent) band, bumping and grinding, breaking into improvisation. His interaction with the crowd was conversational. He wore confidence like that motorcycle jacket slung around him at the open of the show.
He never slowed down, either. "Sometimes,"a seven-minute track from his debut album, 1st Born Second that begins as a slow burn and climbs frantically, started to feel like the climax of the night. Nope, another false alarm.
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His peak finally seemed to come with "All Matter," a rock-tinged single from the just-released Airtight's Revenge. Bilal stomped, ran in place, and matched his band beat for beat with his vocals until his shirt was nearly soaked through. Back to the audience, head bowed to his chest, body slowly pulsing as the music faded, he was at last spent.
Not so fast. The crowd, who'd wilted so much they were willing to let the man who keeps going and going to, well, go, needed a shove from host Vikter Duplaix. After he encouraged them to shout Bilal back out, the band returned for thirty more minutes and their recent rendition of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."
Miss Jack Davey of J*Davey, who, along with Coco of Quadron, had opened, suddenly appeared on the front row. Throwing her arms in the air, and her body into the funked-up remix, she shouted at Bilal. Her fiercely sexual set had ended over two hours before, but the feverish energy onstage seemed a siren call. If he wasn't ready to stop, neither was she.