Raphael Saadiq is one smooth character. At the House of Blues, the triple-threat singer, songwriter and producer glided through an imposing, career-spanning two-hour show, starting the holiday fireworks a day early. By evening’s end, there was no doubt that Saadiq is a major talent.
Rail thin, with a honeyed tenor combining Donnie Hathaway’s yearning and Stevie Wonder’s irrepressible melodic invention, Saadiq blossomed onstage performing the “gospeldelic” material from his 2002 solo debut “Instant Vintage” (Universal). A preacher with a streetwise edge, he seduces with liquid phrasing and a courtly restraint. He wants to kiss you everywhere, he pledges, even, he adds with a coy pause and downward tilt of his head, “there.”
His 12-piece band can readily handle the simmering, Prince-styled rock of “Charlie Ray” as well as the bruising gospel of “Be Here” — the latter so explosive it inspired guest performer D’Angelo to leap into the crowd and dance.
The concert (taped for release this fall on DVD) included a full complement of guests, but none of them, not even the reunited Tony! Toni! Tone!, overshadowed the star’s understated charisma. He holds the stage with the easy confidence of a man who knows a pale, dove-colored tuxedo stands out among the flashier red, white and black. Even Leslie Wilson’s astounding, pulpit-pounding turn during “Uptown,” a performance that left the aud wrung out but cheering, couldn’t dim the spotlight on Saadiq.