JOSS STONE with RYAN SHAW
Taste of Chicago, Grant Park
Tuesday July 1, 2008
Photos by Jennifer Wheeler
Joss Stone and Ryan Shaw were belting out retro-soul long before we heard Amy Winehouse singing about rehab refusal. These two young prodigies have the kind of talent and vocal prowess that is way beyond their tender years. Both are well-schooled in the old school of American soul and R&B from the ‘50s – ‘70s. Justin Timberlake may think he’s bringing sexy back, but Joss and Ryan have the kind of sensuous, passionate and soulful voices that can truly make you swoon, shake your booty or break your heart.
Most likely the majority of the audience that night had never heard of Ryan Shaw, who opened the show. After hearing his incredible 53-minute set, they will never forget him. By the end of the first song, he had the crowd cheering. Shaw strolled out onstage alone, looking hip in a white suit and lime green t-shirt, followed by his bass player. With a voice that rose to the rafters, accompanied only by the bassist playing the melody, Shaw sang reggae star Jimmy Cliff’s classic, “Many Rivers to Cross.” The crowd cheered as he held impossibly high notes with incredible lung power.
The drummer and lead guitarist came out as Shaw switched gears into overdrive for “Do The 45,” a rousing R&B dance number from the ‘60s. You could imagine girls in white go-go boots doing the pony to this one. Shaw included scat singing, using his voice to mimic a saxophone, percussion and other cool sounds. (The song is from “This Is Ryan Shaw” the vocalist’s debut CD, which I highly recommend).
Shaw turned his self-penned tune “Nobody” into a sing-and clap-along number that got everybody feeling the love. He reached back into the ‘60s again for a moving rendition of Ashford and Simpson’s “I Am Your Man.”
“Wave your hands for love!,” Shaw declared and so they did for “We Got Love,” a Shaw original on which he sounded very much like a young Stevie Wonder. Again, he dazzled the crowd with his scatting and wailing that might have impressed Wonder himself.
The native of Decatur, GA mentioned that his mom is a Southern Pentecostal Preacher, while he introduced the next song as “my prayer, my own arrangement.” Shaw’s soul-gospel performance of the Beatle’s “Let It Be,” was truly reverent and inspiring; I hope he records it.
Shaw writes songs with his talented guitarist, bassist and drummer, who together provide the perfect musical accompaniment that lets his voice shine. They also sing glorious three-part harmony.
The group’s newest original, “I Was Choosing Me,” an intense, uplifting song about leaving a bad situation, is another winner, bound for Shaw’s sophomore CD.
Shaw then tackled Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” -- a tall order. Shaw’s version was more upbeat and faster than Otis’ slow burn. By the end, the singer was jumpin’ up and down shouting “sock it, sock it, sock it to me!” He left the stage as the crowd screamed for more.
For his encore, the dreadlocked singer really pulled out all the stops on “I Found A Love,” in which he gave his best soul screams, declaring “baby, baby, I love you, baby” over and over, eliciting female screams in response. Then he slowed it down and sang/talked about the sexy way he makes his baby breakfast, that got even more screaming going on. Barry White would have been proud.
Shaw finished the show by doing vocal impersonations of Ron Isley, Michael Jackson, John Legend and finally Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.”
Shaw is a performer who feels the power of music and sings it with every fiber of his being. His bright green t-shirt (that reads Truth over Faith), made me think of Shaw as the Incredible Hulk, bursting out of his human form as the music transforms him into something grander and more powerful than your average mortal.
on the other hand, is more like a volcano. She slowly simmers, steams,
bubbles and then smokes before the explosion. Anyone who has seen her
perform live knows that Joss’ three CDs simply don’t do her justice.
The seven-piece band, plus three backup singers, all dressed in white, came out first to sing an introduction for the star of the show. Joss made her entrance decked out like a flower-child bride in a white full-length, tiered dress, a white daisy in her light brown tresses, pierced nose and bare feet. She was irresistible and she knew it.
She has certainly come of age. I saw her perform in Austin, TX when she was only sweet 17, with a voice and talent way beyond her years. When she wasn’t singing, the cute blonde, barefoot teen would giggle and politely thank the audience for the applause after each song. Four years later, the long-locked lass from Britain has become a full-fledged diva, fronting a full-blown soul revue. She has the pipes, sex-appeal and chutzpah to pull it off.
Joss charged out of the gate with two tunes from her third CD, Introducing Joss Stone, -- “Head Turner,” and “Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now.” She then asked the musical question “are you digging on me?” from the song “Super Duper Love,” as the crowd enthusiastically sang back “yeeeaaah”. “Please don’t make me sing it by myself,” she sweetly purred. They didn’t.
Joss kept the momentum going with the sexy “Jet Lag” from her second CD Mind Body & Soul. She followed by with some serious wailing on “Me And My Baby,” to cheers from the audience.
And then she stopped… because she couldn’t stand it anymore. “What’s this empty space? I can’t sing to invisible people!” she politely complained, pointing to the empty, barricaded photo pit beneath the stage that separated her from the devoted.
The Taste of Chicago security obliged the diva and made way for adoring audience members to eagerly crowd at the foot of the stage. The show then became a dance party, as Joss got down and funk-alicious with “Put Your Hands On Me.” Now that she could connect with the crowd, Joss really took off! She sashayed, shimmied and swayed across the stage. She crooned, moaned and emoted as only a true soul singer can.
Joss’ rendition of the White Stripes song “Fell In Love With A Boy” (from her debut CD The Soul Sessions) was the funkiest version I’ve ever heard, either on CD or live in Austin. She was feeling good and flirty now, as she playfully moved to the edge of the stage, flipping her long skirt and allowing the boys in front to touch her hem, for just a moment, before she pulled it back. The singer does the same cat and mouse dance with her voice. She obviously gets off on interacting with the crowd, something which can’t be duplicated in a recording studio.
Her excellent backing ensemble seemed to be having some fun, spontaneous musical moments as well, which made for better versions of songs like “Baby, Baby, Baby,” “ Music,” “ Don’t Cha Wanna Ride,” “ Less Is More” and the dynamic “You Had Me.” Most of the tunes featured different, better arrangements than the CD versions. “Tell Me Bout It,” was served up James Brown funky style, as each band member got their turn in the spotlight. Joss ended the song by skipping off stage and flashing the peace sign, leaving the crowd begging for more after 14 nonstop songs.
For her encore, Joss sang the best song from her Mind Body & Soul CD, “I Have A Right To Be Wrong,” a slower number that builds to a dramatic climax in which Joss sings with her best Janis Joplin-esque fervor. “I’m telling you..we ALL got the right, yes we do!” she declared as she stomped off the stage to emphasize the point.
The band started into an instrumental of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” and Joss returned, all smiles, carrying a bunch of long stemmed white roses, which she elegantly tossed out to some lucky fans. She saved the last rose for the lady at the side of the stage who worked hard all night translating the show in sign language for the handicapped. (Deaf translators are regularly seen on stage at Grant Park concerts in Chicago; they do a marvelous job and are fun to watch).
“Peace and love, people!” were the flower child’s last words to the cheering crowd as she made her final exit.