On paper, Lewis Taylor’s musical formula looks like a surefire recipe for disaster. But when the reclusive Brit combines his natural affinity for old-school soul with his flair for prog-rock bombast, the results are usually enchanting, sometimes jaw-dropping.
The bulk of this perf — Taylor’s first on American soil — fell squarely into the latter category, its steamy sensuality all but raising the roof of the packed Bowery (which took possession of the show after the much smaller original venue sold out its tickets in a matter of hours).
Taylor’s an odd bird, to say the least — a scruffy, professorial type whose obvious misgivings about the spotlight belie a Prince-like focus on the erotic. That focus was heightened by Taylor’s keening vocals — he coaxed his naturally high tenor into a soaring falsetto on songs like “You Make Me Wanna” and “Bittersweet” — as well as his scratchy, off-center guitar solos.
While a fair portion of the set was drawn from his recently released Hacktone album “Stoned,” Taylor was perfectly happy to accede to audience requests for material from the dustier corners of his catalog, notably a delicate rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Everybody Here Wants You” and dizzy renditions of “Song” and “Damn” (songs far more intricate than those simplistic titles might indicate).
The perf was saddled with some elements — like taped backing vocals used to mimic the lush arrangements of Taylor’s recordings — that undercut its spontaneity. Structure gave way to spiritedness, however, during a smile-inducing encore that found Taylor insisting he and his band didn’t know any more songs — before going on to romp through seat-of-the-pants versions of tracks like “Lewis II” (on which he abandoned lyrics in favor of calling out chord changes to his mates).