London’s Jazz Cafe tonight replicated the steamy humidity of Anderson East’s Athens, Alabama roots on what was a sold out show for this artist who is described as as being an R’nB singer, R’n’B in the old fashioned sense thankfully. Notable and encouraging was the number of 20- and 30-somethings thronging the venue, East’s own peer group.
His multi genre music sits at the lower end of the jazz scale of this venue’s usual range and the set was built mainly around his recent acclaimed second album ‘Encore’. East has a big stage presence and it’s a blessing that his original ambition to be a recording engineer evolved into bringing his powerful emotive voice to the performance side of the business. His Alabama roots, although he is now established in Nashville, make a Muscle Shoals reference easy to drop in but it’s not inaccurate when referencing the Southern Soul aspects of that studio’s legendary catalogue, particularly when he performed the first encore, ‘Satisfied’, indeed, his 2015 debut album ‘Delilah’ was recorded at the Shoals. Some of the vibes even hark back to classic touchstones such as Percy Sledge, Van Morrison and Ike and Tina Turner.
One insightful review of ‘Encore’ ponders on the music’s “plasticised perfection” but to this reviewer the polished competence throughout the band never loses its soul or authenticity. East was engaging and energetically upbeat, highly confident, whilst sparing with his chat. He does however offer a lively context by saying that many of his songs are based around the act of ‘purpling’ which he was taught at Presbyterian summer camp. This was explained to him as the combination of men, with blue their stereotypical colour, and the pink of women….you get the drift……
His band are drawn from a wide catchment across the Southern half of the States. The sound is in the main heavily swathed with keyboards and brass, particularly on the opening medley of tracks, ‘Surrender’ and ‘King For A Day’, which showcased Nathan Heffron on sax, Ben Clarke on trumpet and flamboyant keyboard man Phil Towns. Brothers Scotty Murray – lead guitar / steel guitar and bassman Jon Murray gained most prominence on ‘This Too Shall Last’ which ended the main set on a stirring eleven minute version. Other highlights included the jaunty ‘All On My Mind’, perhaps the closest to a rock song in the set, a rousing beyond-genre cover of Willie Nelson’ s ‘Somebody Pick Up My Pieces’ and ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ a ballsy Sam and Dave cover.