By Richard Menta 1/13/12
"It's like how it mustve been when Sam and Dave first started out in Memphis," my brother shouted to me as Brooklyn-based R&B band The Revelations kicked it into gear last Saturday night at my favorite venue in Philadelphia, World Café Live. Since they are fronted by two exceptional, former Hip Hop singers who have a dynamic similar in a modern way to their Stax/ Volt forebears, the comparison was right on target. After a brief absence, Rell Gaddis was back trading vocals with mainstay Tre' Williams, providing the sweet soul interplay to his partners gritty power. In a world where the likes of Christina Aguilera and a hundred American Idol contestants have led to the coining of a new word, "oversouling", nothing was better than hearing two men sing as adults focused on making the music connect emotionally with their audience rather than getting lost in the glory of misplaced technique.
Of course, Soul greats Sam and Dave didn't have an audience like this. The white girls danced with the black girls. The college kids danced with the 50-somethings. I don't think I have ever been part of an audience that had such an even mix of age and race. I wanted the hat of the dapper over-40, black gentleman, named Lawrence, who settled into the deep groove the band laid out that night and I walked up to tell him so after the show. He politely said no, but appreciated the compliment and the fact that the band created that kind of feel good, walk-up-to-strangers sort of vibe in the room.
Sam and Dave sung their ass off, but in a different time and a different world. Mixed race shows were the exception and very few in the audience were old enough to have crow's feet. Tre' and Rell also sang their asses off, as did Angela Johnson who more than warmed up the audience when she fronted the band on the first couple of songs. This was a great show on a great night; audience and artists together making the place swing.
My brother and I know a lot of people who would have loved the show if only they would trust us and stop taking their lead from the usual tastemakers. We invited several, but they all declined, stuck in their familiar but tired major-media-outlet-fed ways. Maybe, if they were less willing to plunk down $200 for U2 tickets and more willing to take a chance and risk a mere $15 on a relatively unknown band, we could get them to take the ride into Philadelphia. Of course, we have trouble getting them to shows at our own Jersey shore venues. But that's another issue in today's concert going climate, one that works against up-and-coming artists.
It was a standing room only crowd that night and, like I said, a mixed age/race crowd at that. If I am harping on that point, it is this ability to transcend age and race that validates the Revelations musical draw. It is one thing to crossover on record; it is another thing to do it in concert. "Turn that RAP down!, I have heard my baby boomer friends shout to their teenagers. And when they say it they are completely oblivious to how much they sound like their own parents who back in the day screamed "Turn that CRAP down," over the thump of rock records. Back then the boomers felt that their parents just didn't get it and the wedge between the generations got bigger. The same pattern is repeated today, the irony made all the greater by the fact that these contemporary parents are also oblivious that the same racial fears underlie their own musical objections. Target marketing on terrestrial radio only further feeds this disjoint between age and race.
That's why the makeup of Saturday's audience is important, because for them age and race was never an impediment to connecting with the music, be it an original song like the rousing I Dont Want to Know or a phenomenal cover of Al Greens 1970s hit, Take me to the River. The band is that good a mix of black and white musicians soulfully playing their own style of neo-classic, yet still very contemporary sounding, R&B to a black and white audience. As for the sight of college students swaying in sync with middle-aged men and women, well, that is something to be celebrated, too. In light of all that, the name of the band could not be more apt.