In this era of Rhiannas and Beyonces, Angie Stone’s brand of measured R&B could be considered something of an anachronism. Into her fifth decade Stone has outlasted an army of ass-shaking pretenders and she isn’t about come out on stage twerking or swinging naked from a wrecking ball. She’s much too classy for that.
Her sound firmly recalls the golden age of soul music albeit filtered through the hip-hop prism that categorized its neo-soul revival in the mid 90’s. Tonight’s set leans heavily on her break out debut, Black Diamond, from 1999 which pleases the sold out crowd who have come in such numbers that they are spilling out into the bar.
Stone is a Baptist and her performance is rooted in the church where all the best soul singers have paid their dues. The tone is set for the evening with the fabulous gospel harmonies of Lover's Ghetto offsetting the tracks sultry Michael Jackson sampling funk. Stone gets the opportunity to really let loose her impressive vocal ability as she trades lines with her incredible backing singers.
Green Grass Vapours slinky groove about the benefits of marijuana is probably not a subject you’d hear discussed in a Sunday sermon but it reflects Stone’s urban subject matter as is Bone To Pick (Wit U) about a cheating ex who may have twigged he was the star of the story when he confronted Stone about its content.
“Did you write that song about me? If the shoe fits....”
Stone’s plays us her favourite song, the laguid Everyday co-written with former paramour D'angelo. Its musically very similar to D’angelo’s Jonz in My Bonz, a song she also co-wrote for Brown Sugar, as it shares the same burbling organ percolating in the background.
After her favourite song we get a cover by her favourite artist; Al Green. She says she hasn’t played it much but you would have never have guessed as Stone takes it to church on the classic For The Good Times. After summoning the spirit of Aretha the Hammond organ segues into Guilty from new album Rich Girl which shares the same chord progression and we are suddenly in a full blown South Carolinian gospel service.
The crowd are asked to put our hands in the air to praise the Lord. Even though the bulk of the audience are probably atheists they acquiesce and a lovely moment is shared. Stone’s amazing backing singers then take centre stage and give it the full gospel breakdown. Lord have mercy!
“Where my girls at!?"
Stone changes the tempo with the upbeat swing of Pissed Off a song about female empowerment which is more Beyonce than Spice Girls. Stone admits that her good friend Beyonce has stolen her thunder on that front but tries to get the crowd to sing the refrain from one of her more obscure songs in the middle. The problem is the crowd don’t know the song and the whole things falls rather flat.
"Don't be ashamed to enjoy yourself. You bought a ticket right?"
Although being wronged by her man is a recurring theme to much of her output just to show she is not just another jilted man hater Stones gives us the rolling bump ‘n grind of Brotha, an old school R Kellyish celebration of strong black men. The delicious two note guitar lick courtesy of guitarist James Owens gets the hips a-dipping.
Before the obligatory encore the sunny groove of No More Rain (In This Cloud) spreads over the audience like butter on hot crumpets. Stone’s feather-light delivery recalls a lost Syreeta track, the retro vibe perhaps influenced by the judicious Gladys Knight and The Pips sample.
When Stone returns to the stage her band run the old Prince number of going through some of her back catalogue only to tantalisingly stop after a few bars to play something else
"You don’t want that one. I got too many songs"
The audience isn’t stupid and they know that one track has been conspicuous by its absence tonight. I Wish I Didn’t Miss You is a lesson in how to take a sample and make it your own. It pinches the riff from the Temptation’s Backstabbers but takes the song into a completely different dimension.
Stone’s talented band goes to town and runs through a variety of genres including reggae, blues and salsa before the audience start pogoing to a rock version of the song. When you’re as good as Angie you get the crowd to do the ass-shaking for you.