6/23/2016 – Royale

Imagine if everyone who attended Woodstock created a secular, non-denominational church— a congregation that met at Boston’s own Royale. Who might lead this worship? Some might say, after Thursday night’s show, the hippie of soul music himself: Allen Stone.

A silhouette bathed in a dull, white light took center stage. Anyone would recognize the shape of that crazy blonde hair. With a soft, easy smile, Allen Stone teased the crowd with few chords and false starts. “Boston, Massachusetts. How the hell are you?”

Stone and company released a soulful and jubilant introduction to “Celebrate Tonight,” calling forth the members of Stone’s following to dance and sing along in celebration. Cheers and shouts erupted from the old and the young, and all those in between. An old man in a fedora stood in the center of the crowd. An older woman with a silk bandana wrapped around her head watched from the sides with her hands in her pockets. A high school student sat with her parents, twirling her straw. A group of twenty-somethings dressed in Hawaiian shirts ran by their table, chattering excitedly about getting closer. Age diversity like this hasn’t been seen since the last time you attended, well, a Sunday morning church service.

Stone performed highlights from his most recent album Radius, including “Upside,” which prompted a shouty crowd singalong and featured an interlude that sounded like the jam-session love-child of Led Zeppelin and Parliament. “Fake Future,” another track from Radius, bared a striking resemblance to its recording version, saturated with funky bass-lines from Tyler Carroll and rich chords from keyboardist Steve Watkins (or as Stone called him, Steve Swatkins). Watkins and guitarist Trevor Larkin also provided impressive backups to Stone’s tenor, creating resonant and warm three-part harmonies.

Stone and band played song after song without any banter. It was more a seamless playlist than a live concert. Stone’s lack of engagement prompted people to break out in conversation and browse the merch table.

But, a frenetic keyboard solo from Watkins quickly reclaimed the attention of audience members as an eerie purple hue saturated the stage. The LED lights from the exposed back of Watkins Hammond organ added to the light show, shining a ghostly, white light across the stage floor. The first notes of “American Privilege,” Stone’s attack song on American consumerism, rang out. Fans of Stone know he has a passion for social issues, and the audience came to a focused stillness as they listened to Stone’s solemn lesson.

On “Unaware,” an older song written during the Bush administration that still resonates with the political issues of today, Stone’s high tenor notes were sung more out of frustration than as a showcase of vocal gymnastics. When the crowd sang the chorus without Stone’s prompting he took a step back and put his hand to his heart. “That sounds so beautiful,” he said into the mic.

After the excitement of these songs came a lull. It felt like the moment of communion, before the preacher’s big, important sermon. Except, instead of bread and wine, it was beer and more beer. With the huge hit off of Radius, “Freedom,” Stone stepped to the front of the stage and asked for a show of hands: “How many people believe in the power of love? How many people believe in the power of love and music combined? It’s unstoppable!” The whole audience enthusiastically shot up their hands. Those at the edges of the dance floor shuffled closer to take part in the survey, hypnotized by Stone’s words. During this song, Stone led the people in a “universal sway,” a dance move invented by Stone. The entire venue participated, swaying their arms to the right and left in a moment of actual universality.

The song ended in a powerful, frenzied two-minute drum solo from Jason Holt. The band mates stopped and put down their instruments, drinking water, pointing, and laughing at Holt as if they were saying, “Is that all you got?” Obviously, it wasn’t. Holt switched meters and styles countless times and never missed a beat.

Even then, the highlight of the show hadn’t happened until “Million,” Stone’s most recent single. Romantic purple, blue, and pink lights colored the stage as the band leaned into the 6/8 time. Stone urged the audience to listen to him. This was the sermon. “We thank the universe, God, Allah, whatever it is you want to call it, for people like you!” Somehow, the three voices of Stone, Watkins, and Larkin sounded like a 20-person choir. In a call to a singalong, Stone shouted “There’s nothing that unites a group of people than singing together. If you’re shy… if you came with someone who’s super hot and you want a second date… I don’t give a shit!”

In moments, the entire Church of Royale was singing “I want some free love/ I want some free love/ Give it to me.” Two grown men skipped and danced with each other. People put their arms around each other and calling back to that “universal sway.” Stone had managed to make this group one again. Stone’s message at the night’s service: allow yourself to be universal with others.

Joyful Noise: Allen Stone
  • Stunning and inventive performances from every band member
  • Songs varied from thought-provoking to dance-provoking
  • Served with a worthwhile lesson
  • Seemed more like a party playlist than a concert at times
9Overall Score

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