It’s quite all right to point out an obvious fact about Lucy Pearl without insulting the band: This is your father’s R&B! Raphael Saadiq, ex-leader of one of the few outstanding live R&B bands of the 1990s, Tony! Toni! Tone!, fronts one of the most compelling concert acts in all of popular music, knocking on a musical shrine built by George Clinton, Sly Stone, Prince and Marvin Gaye, and even finding a seat for himself in their sanctum. The Pearl’s funk is unabashedly retro, but the presentation, the guitar embellishments, and turntable tricks and beats from Ali Shaheed Muhammad (formerly of A Tribe Called Quest) place it at the head of the new, soon-to-be-overhyped, soul revival. Sex appeal, though, is left completely to new singer Joi, a solo artist with three albums under her belt and recording experience with everyone from Dallas Austin to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
One-off perf was introduced as its first in public with a revamped lineup that puts the lithe and lean Joi, ably replacing Dawn Robinson, at center stage performing material from the group’s Pookie Records/Beyond Music eponymous debut as well as songs from her solo album, on Universal’s slate for later this year.
Group hammered out a new smooth groove number from that upcoming disc in which the protagonist, the tall and thin Joi hiding behind mustard-tinted glasses and a funky brimmed fez, is drunk at 2:45 in the morning, looking for some reefer and wondering where her next destination might be. Of all the hit songs of the last two years that deal with closing time at bars, this is easily the most intoxicating and sensual, testimony to the unbeatable chemistry between Saadiq and Joi.
That chemistry was best displayed on the seemingly titled “I Love the Way You Love Me,” a seductive duet that Saadiq and Joi milked to the last drop, and one of the standout tracks from the Lucy Pearl debut disc, “Can’t Stand Your Mother,” a great piece of smooth funk that has a decided echo of Was (Not Was) in its late-’80s heyday.
Rest of the time the Pearl leaned heavily on grooves established by bassist Elijah Hassan, torn straight from the pages of Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins.
Band’s “You,” a chart-climbing single from the soundtrack to the Par pic “Save the Last Dance,” made it into the set late in the show as did a rousing version of “Dance Tonight,” a song for which they are nominated for a Grammy.