BY JAMILA ROBINSON
Few performers are as charismatic as Seal, who commands the stage with verve and power, but still managed to make Chastain Park Amphitheatre feel like as intimate as a living room.
And few singers can perform renditions of soul songs such as Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO,” like Seal, with that grinding, old-school, throw-panties-on-the-stage sex appeal.
Combining his gravelly baritone with well-placed falsetto, Seal, the Grammy award-winning British singer-songwriter knows how to switch up his sound, buttery for the ballads, and growling when he wants to grab your attention. His voice never fails him.
Joining Seal on this tour to promote his “Soul 2″ album is a backing band that drives those R&B covers, like Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” The band was fierce on guitars, keyboards, drums – with background singers who did double duty on baritone sax and trombone – and showed off their musicianship and flexibility as they transitioned from ’70s songs like the O’Jays “Backstabbers” to the ’90s club vibe of “The Beginning” and onto to the Victorian waltz of the blockbuster “Kiss From a Rose.”
Although Seal has plenty of crowd-grabbing repertoire, the beauty of his concerts comes from his interaction with the audience, which he seems to assess, then play to as needed. Seal is dramatic, grabbing the mic stand with a deep lunges, posing, then contorting himself into awkward positions that signal a secret life as a yoga aficionado or capoeira master.
Seal connects by peering directly into the eyes of concertgoers, pounding out a few fist-bumps, or crouching into limbo territory to sing to the women rushing the stage.
For those busily recording on their smart phones or posting on Facebook, Seal doesn’t seem to feel ignored; instead, he gets closer to devices and hams it up, dancing, gyrating, leaving the camera holder with a better shot. If that wasn’t enough, Seal launched himself into the crowd, climbing on seats, hugging spectators while performing his 1991 smash “Crazy.”
The set list, which seems crafted around such high-energy anthems makes for a wave-your hands then jump-out-of-your-seat pace, still seems to be a work in progress. According to reports, New York audiences got to hear “Love’s Divine.” Atlanta fans heard “Tinsel Town,” both from his “Seal IV” album. Perhaps that means some upcoming audiences will probably get to hear the absent “Bring It On” or “Future Love Paradise.”
Even with those wicked omissions, Seal still makes you want to watch him as well as listen.
“You guys may not know this song, but I don’t care. We like it,” he told the crowd before singing “State of Grace” a brilliant track from his critically acclaimed, but commercially flat album “Human Being.” The song is a complicated composition with thorny bass riffs that counterpoint the introspective lyrics. Seal, used every muscle in his 6-foot-4 inch frame to tap out the drumline, which was as glorious as the singing.
Still, Seal doesn’t linger on songs familiar only to the most dedicated fans; the goal seems to be to maintain a certain energy, which he and the band drive home with the encores of The Spinners “I’ll Be Around” and his rousing “Amazing.”