We all hate Nickleback. It’s a given; an easy target. But have we ever asked ourselves why? Some might say it’s Chad Kroeger’s voice or even his facial hair. Most would say the band typifies the commercial idealism of music today.
You may question what all this has to do with Aloe Blacc. Well, not much really, other than that he is the antithesis to everything Nickleback represents. If Blacc was say, Frodo Baggins, Kroeger would be Gollum.
The point here is that it won’t bother Blacc if he never pens another hit like ‘I Need A Dollar’. His motive for creating music is to facilitate positive change rather than achieve commercial success. It harks back to an era where the likes of Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke used music as a vehicle to highlight society’s ills.
This idealism was at the core of Blacc’s performance at TRAK tonight. While he didn’t necessarily emphasise any of the themes off his album – homelessness, economic uncertainty, poverty – he did use the show as a platform to create a warm, positive and sociable vibe. Sufficient to say there was a lot of lovin’ in the room once his hour-and-a-half set was over.
Those in attendance early – of which there were many – were lucky enough to two-step to the sounds of Maya Jupiter and the outstanding Electric Empire. Jupiter is a firecracker, a rare breed of Mexican, Turkish and rapper. She is also based in Sydney but wisely asks the parochial Melbourne crowd not to hold that against her. More importantly, her delivery and rhyme is as sharp as any of her Aussie skip-hop counterparts.
Electric Empire’s hour-long set is almost good enough to upstage Blacc himself. Channeling a seamless mix of Al Green and the early Temptations, the boys effortlessly hone their soul and occasional funk chops. ‘Baby Your Lovin’, ‘Everything I Am’ and a cover of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ (shit, everyone else has covered it so why not) soothe and invigorate the crowd in equal parts.
After a brief tease of intro instrumentation from his band, Aloe Blacc walks on stage to an epic welcoming. It’s a relief for all concerned. Given the fact this gig was moved from the Palace to TRAK due to a supposed lack of ticket sales, it was suggested most pundits were only interested in hearing his omnipresent hit single. The echo from the resounding welcoming applause strongly suggests otherwise.
Blacc cuts a lean and fit figure on stage. After 16 years in the game – he started his career as a rapper with Emanon in the mid 90s – he has his presence and technique down pat. New album Good Things gets a solid working over, beginning with the title track and leading into ‘Green Lights’ and his version of Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatale’.
Between new tracks, Blacc finds time to introduce semi-new tune ‘Tonight Downtown’. Its crowd pleasing chorus and funky horns give it a more commercial edge than anything else off Good Things. He also revisits the roots of his career with a rap from his Emanon days before contrasting the mood with ‘Momma Hold My Hand’.
With most of the crowd now either hand holding, hugging or whispering sweet nothings, Blacc launches into ‘You Make Me Smile’ before unleashing an extended, reggae-styled version of ‘I Need A Dollar’. An impromptu crowd rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ occurs when Maya Jupiter returns to stage to announce its Aloe’s birthday. Subtly pleased, he walks off stage before later returning to encore with covers of ‘California Dreamin’’ and ‘Billie Jean’ and ending with ‘Loving You Is Killing Me’. Few pundits could’ve asked for better value – even if tickets were a hefty $70 a pop.
As mentioned, Blacc may never have another hit as big as ‘I Need A Dollar’. Let’s hope he does, though. Getting his message of positive social change to a mass audience can only be a good thing.
Plus it’s a shitload better than hearing Nickleback and Will.i.am in every supermarket and petrol station.
– Paul Bonadio