Seal’s simple but heartfelt message of love and peace among the races isn’t always best served on his albums, which tend to be a bit too calculatedly polished and, like late-period Peter Gabriel, misrepresent the singer himself as a bit desultory and detached. But like Gabriel, of whom Seal’s sexy, soulful voice is reminiscent, when you put him in a live setting, the songs come alive and the singer seems afire. British-born Sealhenry Samuel’s 105-minute set at the Greek Theatre Tuesday night was both elegantly mounted, thanks to a tastefully evocative light show, and passionately delivered to a congregation of the faithful.
On disk, Seal seems to operate on two predictable speeds: Dance-hall manic and ballad luxuriant; the two often meet for a hybrid pace somewhere in between. When he introduces a song as being “about hope and togetherness,” he hasn’t given you a clue as to what the song might actually be — all his numbers address those concerns.
With a crack live band backing him, featuring legendary session man Tony Levin (who has also played bass for Gabriel), drummer Brian Blade and keyboardist David Sancious, the music had more rhythmic kick than Seal’s recorded output has usually managed. Guitarist Mike Landau gave a number of songs, including “Bring It On,” “When a Man Is Wrong” and the recent single “Human Beings,” a fierce urgency not found on disc.
Of course, Seal himself was also responsible for the newfound vibrancy. Emerging onstage in a dapper charcoal suit and black shirt, he quickly shed his jacket and shoes in order to prowl the stage with an irresistibly pantherlike sensuality as he poured his heart and vocal chords into espousing his vision of a love-sated, utopian world and the ready obstacles (such as in “Lost My Faith”) that stand in understanding’s way.
Together, however, Seal and his band gave electrifying new edges to the songs “Latest Craze” and “Newborn Friend” — tunes which are merely pleasant in recorded form, but brought the crowd to its feet in their live renditions. And, predictably, Seal’s animated versions of his singles “Kiss From a Rose,” “Prayer for the Dying” and “Crazy,” which closed the show, elicited justly ecstatic responses from his audience.
Joan Jones, the former front woman for L.A. cult band SUN60 who is currently enjoying popularity thanks to her song “Everyday Down” on the “Felicity” soundtrack as well as her solo debut disk “Starlite Criminal,” opened with a modest set boasting a bigger sound than the three onstage musicians would have suggested.
Jones is a quintuple threat: In addition to singing and songwriting, she plays acoustic guitar, keyboards and a somewhat gratuitous mini-trumpet. She performs her songs, usually about locating and finding satisfaction with one’s identity, with more passion than the material sometimes suggests.
Still, her onstage turn as a local hero (she recalled hiding in the trees surrounding the Greek to watch acts in her youth) offers hope that she can find a niche audience of teenage girls who find Jewel too callow, but aren’t quite ready for Ani DiFranco.