Seal takes grateful fans on a joyful journey into the past
Seal's lengthy hiatuses between album and touring cycles make every reemergence feel like a comeback.
The upside is that the audience is generally primed to have a good time with an artist they've missed. The downside, depending on the quality of the new material, is a demand from those same people for a premature plunge into nostalgia.
Given that his latest release, "Soul," consists solely of vintage R&B covers that are lovingly wrought but by no means revelatory, it's doubly impressive that the British pop star managed to dip into the past - both his own and others' - Monday night at the Orpheum without exuding a whiff of mothballs. In fact, it was a vibrant, sweaty, hip- and heart-moving performance that found the affable singer as grateful to be reunited with his fans as they were to hear his husky, emotive voice.
It helped mightily that the singer-songwriter's musical agenda was so varied and that his crack backing trio was so in tune with those ever changing moods.
First up was piano man Peter Cincotti, who warmed up the crowd with his polished and plucky adult contemporary pop songs. Then Seal took over, smoothly switching the musical gears from pulsating electronic dance tracks ("The Right Life," "Beginning") to soaring pop ("Prayer for the Dying," "Kiss From a Rose") to acoustic interludes infused with folk and blues sensibilities. "Love's Divine" split the difference between a juke joint Saturday night and Sunday morning services.
Songs that came across as merely adequate on "Soul" sizzled onstage as Seal poured actual sweat and tears into impassioned versions of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and Sam Cooke's timeless civil rights anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come."
It's early in the tour, and Seal's voice was in fine form, hitting the thready falsetto notes gracefully and growling and burning on the harder-edged "Killer" and "Crazy."
He capped the evening with a prayerfully optimistic take on Curtis Mayfield's classic "People Get Ready." Seal may have missed singing the national anthem at the rained-out Red Sox home opener, but he did his part Monday night to wave the banner for great music.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.