SOUL ON FIRE: Jamie Lidell @ Bowery Ballroom, 6.9.08

By Andrew Parks

The last–hell, maybe the only–time I saw two shows in a row from the same act wasn’t a Radiohead residency or anything involving Phish. It was during Jamie Lidell‘s first round of Multiply dates. At the time, the beat conductor/crooner/Super_Collider alum was a veritable demigod among Wire readers and IDM heads that’d already witnessed, or at least heard about, his sensory overload shows in Europe. The cost of Lidell’s infamous “media suits” (as in outfits made of videos, CDs and 16mm film) and stunning Pablo Fiasco visuals kept him from clobbering the U.S., though; almost as much as our ‘meh’ level of interest in experimental electronic music.

At least until 2005, when Lidell suddenly emerged with a fractured & freaky R&B record (Multiply)–one so ballsy and career-killing (in some people’s minds, at least) it even confused Warp. Not to mention nearly everyone in attendance at those early Bowery Ballroom/Rothko shows. Let’s just say Lidell was the first–and I’d imagine the last–performer to make me feel as if I was experiencing a blue-eyed soul revue one second and a raging, endorphins-to-the-wall rave the next. Live loops and a whole lot of knob-twiddling led to some shrill and abrasive moments, too, but at least Lidell sounded alive–more so than any band I’d seen in years.

Fast forward a few years and Lidell’s game has certainly changed. Not only has he sanded and shined the edges of his recorded material (see the recently-released Jim); Lidell’s also fleshed out his singer/showman routine with a full backing band. I’ve got to admit I was skeptical of both approaches at first. On the album side, I’ve never questioned Lidell’s “authenticity” like other pulpit-pounding critics. (If the guy can sing, the guy can sing.) My problem was much more basic: Upon the first, second, and maybe even the tenth listen, Jim seemed a little too normal for my tastes, as if Lidell sold all his samplers and synths in pursuit of lightly-sweetened simplicity. Something clicked at one point, however, leaving me singing–and chirping–along to “Another Day,” “Little Bit of Feelgood,” and the moonlit disco of “Green Light” as if everyone was indeed going to be okay.

The same moment of truth happened at Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night, when an over-the-top opening (a ravishing rendition of “Another Day,” complete with sun-baked visuals) gave way to one spirit-lifting song after another. Simply put, everything makes sense once you stop worrying about whether Lidell’s ‘stealing’ the souls of Marvin and Otis. Only then will you understand Lidell’s true intention here: making all of us smile and shut the fuck up about this, this and this for a second, even as he introduces “The City” with the droll line “This is about a place some people enjoy and I find despicable.” Lidell’s a performer, first and foremost, and now that he’s a band leader, he seems determined to brighten yet another day of record highs (you know gas prices, heat indexes, the unemployment rate) and lows. As does his band, who walked through the sold-out crowd with instruments in hand at one point, letting Lidell do his thing as if it were 2005 all over again (a twisted and tweaked version of “When I Come Back Around”).

Ending the evening on an American Idol note (three concertgoers were allowed to sing the “so tired” line of “Multiply”) only solidified the spell Lidell is now casting. His reckless abandon may have been tamed a bit, but at least the guy’s still reinventing the very idea of what a performer owes his audience.

Another Day
Figured Me Out
Out of My System
When I Come Back Around
A Little Bit More
The City
Little Bit of Feelgood
Green Light
Where D’You Go?
Wait For Me

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