Live Review: Aloe Blacc unravels the history of Soul at Zoo Twilights (Melbourne)

The Melbourne summer peak may be on its last legs, but musical and cultural events are still in full swing around the city. A series of concerts under the name Zoo Twilights are currently underway at Melbourne Zoo, lasting from January to March. Visitors are encouraged to arrive early to see the animals then bring along a blanket and grab a seat on the grass by the stage. The proceeds from the concerts go towards saving Eastern Barred Bandicoots (the most adorable marsupial in Australia) from extinction.

The impressive setup of the event formed a real festival-type atmosphere: an outdoor gig whilst the sun was setting, food-trucks onsite, and attendees sprawled out on blankets with picnics. It’s a family event with generations ranging from babies perched on mother’s knees to elderly couples on fold-up chairs at the back. Friday night’s line-up consisted of Melbourne local and female-vocalist, Kaiit, followed by the much anticipated headliner, Aloe Blacc.

Kaiit was absolute dynamite. Her R&B beats alongside funky bass-lines and jazz chords on the keys formed an idyllic combination of seriously smooth vibes. At just twenty years old, Kaiit’s impressive vocals are a force to reckon with and  mark her as definitely one to watch. The blend of her own voice against her male backing vocalists was something of a delight and her developed range is outstanding. She often sang in her lower register, allowing her to stand out as a unique vocalist against others in the same genre.

Kaiit informed the crowd that sometimes she wishes she was born in a different era (don’t we all), before oozing into her track “2000 n Somethin”. In the song, another characteristic of her sound became clear: scatting. As she sang, she never ceased dancing around the stage, radiating a captivating presence throughout her entire set. Finishing on her most popular track, “O.G Luv Kush pt.2”, Kaiit came across as charming, sweet and entertaining. She was so likeable as a person as well as a musician and a real treasure to watch.

Aloe Blacc materialised to announce that he was here to ‘deliver some soul music’ before delving straight into “Lift Your Spirit”, fusing lines from “I Want You Back” (The Jackson 5) and “Use Me” (Bill Withers) into the song. Continuing with this play with fusions, “Hey Brother” included immediately recognisable instrumental excerpts from Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye songs. It became visible very early on that Blacc was going to use his time on stage to enshrine soul music and other parallel genres including disco, reggae and hip-hop.

In a jazz style, many songs he performed ended up lasting twice as long because improvisation and instrumental solos were merged throughout. The band played at all times as Blacc told witty anecdotes, described characteristics of genres and even divulged a few words of wisdom. He asked the audience who was alive for the disco era – to which a loud response applauded. He continued ‘Don’t be ashamed! Have pride! It’s a beautiful thing to have age’, then poured into “Love Is The Answer”, a song which entailed one of the most intricate and intriguing keyboard solos I’ve seen performed live – the pianist even span on his chair (multiple times) and took off his blazer mid-flow. Fire.

It cannot go unsaid that I have never seen anyone control a crowd the way Aloe Blacc did. He called out that he didn’t ‘bring along backing vocalists on purpose’, using call & response vocals with the audience in almost every song. Like a tidal wave, when “I Need A Dollar” began, every single person in the audience rose to stand, and remained not just stood, but dancing for the rest of the set. Halfway through the song, the band switched up the track and performed it with a reggae sound, insisting that ‘reggae is just soul in a different time – Island Time’.

The set was totally unpredictable and surprised the audience incessantly. Kaiit was even summoned back on stage at one point, in which she performed more improvisational scatting whilst Blacc just stood beside her, dancing. A moment of seriousness ensued as the band played through “Wake Me Up”, Avicii’s 2013 release that Aloe Blacc performed vocals on. It was a special moment to commemorate the Swedish artist who tragically took his own life last year and the crowd were completely enveloped in the performance.

To end the night on a high, Blacc insisted on creating a dance competition amongst the audience for his final song “Can You Do This”. By instructing everyone to make space for an aisle down the middle of the entire crowd, Blacc encouraged people to come forward and showcase their best moves in a ‘soul train’. Half of the audience sprinted over to dance through the emerging aisle, whilst the live camera caught the moment on screen for everyone else to watch.

For many people, Aloe Blacc may be recognised merely as that dude who sang “I Need A Dollar”, but his far more complex set took me by complete surprise. He is a world-class entertainer and gave a faultless performance, that was continuously engaging from beginning to end. The result of his thorough and consistent audience interaction allowed the event to evolve into not just a concert, but an actual party. 

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The reviewer attended the event on 22 February, 2019.

Unfortunately tickets for all remaining Zoo Twilights are SOLD OUT.

Aloe Blacc has no more tour dates set in Australia but visit his official website to find out more.

Ruby Robinson

London-born pom living the Melbournian dream. Gig, rum & travel enthusiast.

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