4/7/14 – The Sinclair

Blatant honesty, smooth soul, and long, dark hair. Suited up in stylish Sunday dress (or maybe that was just the gospel influence), the classy ladies and gents of PHOX and Laura Mvula proved the perfect combination for Monday night’s bill.

Breaking in the crowd with an array of slow jams, PHOX was an excellent match-up for Mvula and team. Maybe it was the retro looking get-ups or the blend of feel good rock ‘n’ roll soul, but something about PHOX left ears aching for the crackle of vinyl.

PHOX restrained no stray thought– lead singer Monica Martin was straight up with the audience in her introduction to “Epseon”: “This song is about my sister. She’s very special, tall, smart. I dunno how genetics work; these are just boots and I didn’t graduate from college.” The band kept up their cool banter throughout the show, even turning a misheard word (hey, possum can sound like Boston, right?) into an opportunity to share an inside joke with the crowd: “We’re Possum and we’re from Wisconsin.”

Mvula and crew continued this candid chatter as they came onstage, but this time, the truth was cleverly used as the key to the audience’s heart – or rather, ears. In some sense, Mvula’s honesty lifted the crowd up onto the stage next to her. Britain’s soul singer had not just invited the audience for an afternoon tea – she made us privy to her small secrets:

• Pointing out that we’d be treated to a song that didn’t make it to the album, “Let Me Fall.” Then admitting, “I didn’t get my act together.”

• Introducing “What the Weather Will Be”: “I’m from England, so we talk about the weather. You all have good weather here. (Boos) Oh, maybe I need some schooling on that.”

• “I needed another song, so I wrote this one.”

• “It’s the first song that I wrote. It’s called ‘She.’” (The audience cheers) “Oh, you know it. Good. It’s not awkward then.”

• Prior to “Can’t Live With The World”: “If I haven’t put you to sleep, this one will. No, it’s a lullaby. I won’t be offended. You’re rather in for a treat. Or it’ll go horribly wrong, I’ll take the risk.”

• Upon finishing her cover of Nina Simone’s “See Line”: “If you didn’t get funky on that last one, you can leave now.”

Mvula’s steady stream of musings were just, well, human. But while this intermittent banter was certainly welcome, the musical element seemed a bit too polished. Her confident, clear voice never wavered – not even when a faulty light at The Sinclair decided to remix her sultry “Diamonds” solo by flashing the stage with strobe-y brightness. The album, the genre, and the extremely skillful band all lend themselves well to spontaneous improvisation, yet the performance didn’t stray far from the recorded material. Sure, they broke out into a groove for a few songs, like with fan-favorite “Green Garden,” but for the most part, we were presented with well-crafted tunes.

Unlike the more coherent PHOX, Mvula was clearly the star of the show. She was not only physically distanced from the rest of the band – there was plenty of stage space between her and the others – but also distinguished by her bright patterned dress, which contrasted with the dark outfits of her band.

Mvula’s final song, Make Me Lovely, perfectly captured the complete concert. Switching from sweeping, jazzy soul to the upbeat and fuller harmonizing, the tune reminded us of the variety we heard in in Mvula’s lineup. “I will never be what you want, and that’s alright,” she sang, as she turned her head to show off the bald patch on her signature shaved head. Ah, Laura, but you were just what we wanted.

 

Honesty is Their Policy: PHOX and Laura Mvula
PROS
  • Down-to-earth chitchat with the crowd
  • Jazzy, soulful, heart-warming sounds
  • Power-packed pipes
CONS
  • Still craving that improv
  • No, really. The improv.
8.5Overall Score

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