Xavier and Friends – Ladies of Soul Tribute Live in Concert at Joe’s Pub February 13, 2012 Review/Recap by C. T. Northrup

Words and Images By: C. T. Northrup

Artist: Xavier (and Friends)
Links: Official Website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter

On Valentine’s Day Eve February 13th 2012, Xavier and his cast of talented musical guests paid homage to the great Ladies of Soul (note: we love the flyer which is itself an homage to Diana Ross’ album “Diana”). There’s nothing like the great divas of Soul to get your motor runnin’ before Valentine’s Day, and the show did not disappoint. With the passing of Whitney Houston only two days previous, this show at NYC’s legendary Joe’s Pub successfully balanced the sexy with the straight up soul stirring in honor of Whitney and Etta James and other great (and often unexpected) soul divas past and present. No mere covers show of a handful of expected Soul standards, the variety of artists represented and the songs chosen exemplified a refreshing and dynamic approach to the genre, carried out with with equal measures of delicacy, vivacity and pure spirit. Halleluyer!

Xavier opened the show with a purring rendition of Diana Ross’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.‘ The song’s equal parts spoken word and soaring harmonies highlighted Xavier’s own subtle delivery contrasted with the fabulous duo of Keesha Gumbs and Deah Harriott on back-up. The duality of Xavier’s sometimes soft-spoken delicacy and more boisterous vocal acrobatics would come to define the evening. After a duet on ‘Baby I Love You’  originally by Aretha and also by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, was a fun rendition of Chaka Khan’s ‘Tell Me Something Good,’ where Xavier’s voice reminded one of a young Michael Jackson, not quite mature but not quite Jackson 5 either, with Prince-like high notes. A highlight of the show saw Xavier at his sensual best with a trembling and delicate rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s stupendous ‘Inside My Love.’ It was pared down and profound in its’ simplicity, with Sxip Shirey on dobro guitar and Todd Reynolds on violin.

The night was really about the Ladies of Soul, and therefore the lady guests really shined beginning with Grammy winner Lady Rizo’s rousing rendition of Etta’s ‘Something’s Got a Hold on Me.’ This woman has some pipes and was not afraid to lift up her gown a bit and get down, for real. Etta would have been proud. Xavier followed up with Diana’s campy ‘Muscles’ penned for her by Michael Jackson (really, Michael?). Xavier’s exposition and own personal stories kept things light and interesting throughout…meeting Whitney at Carnegie Hall as a Harlem Boys Choir member and smooching Chaka Khan… among others (ahem). Next up Heloise of The Savoir Faire got people dancing with a track from “honorary” Lady of Soul, Sylvester on ‘Do You Wanna  Funk,’ with Xavier and crew on back-up. Dressed up like a blond disco dolly in sequin top and hot pants, she worked it out with grit and verve, and got people on their feet with some disco soul with an indie-rock vocal twist.

Xavier covered Anita Baker’s ‘Angel,” and like the lyrics was ”strong and tender too.” It was less sung for us, than for an un-named angel in his heart, maybe Whitney? The mood lifted up, way up, with Celina Carvajal’s version of Ike and Tina’s ‘Sexy Ida Pt 1.’ She brought some Latina spice and energy worthy of Tina herself to the night, but like every number in the show, she made it her own. One thing that continued to strike me throughout the evening’s performances was when dealing with such iconic songs and personalities, none of the performers ever devolved into caricature, or simple homage, but as true artists added their own touch. The exception being the purposeful camp tableau of Andre Springer, the artist formerly knows as Shaquanda Coca Mulatta as a naked burlesque Diana, and for the next number practicing his French as Grace Jones with Xavier for a sexy interpretation of ‘Libertango.’ This is the East Village after all, thank you.

Next, Mykal Kilgore took the stage for Aretha’s 1982 hit ‘Jump To It,’ and literally blew the lid off the house. This little man with the big voice blew my mind and everybody else’s running the hell out of Aretha’s song, and generally causing a vocal pandemonium up in Joe’s Pub. I don’t know if ‘Jump To It’ has been in Mykal’s repertoire for years, or he learned it for Xavier’s show. Either way, it doesn’t matter. We all gave him a standing O, and you should too. Find him and see him ’cause as Xavier said when he introduced him, “This boy can SANG.” The final two numbers saw Xavier channeling Sade for ‘Sweetest Taboo,’ and ended on an up-note with, not Robert Palmer mind you but, Cherelle’s jam ‘Didn’t Mean to Turn You On.’ The show was great and universal in its’ quality with an exceptional backing band led by Musical Director David Nagler on keyboards and guitar, Andee Blacksugar on guitars, Matthias Kunzli on percussion, Paul Leschen on keys, Pier Pappalardo on bass, and Ken White on Drums.

As an encore Xavier, Keesha and Deah performed a final farewell to Whitney with an acapella rendition of Exhale (Shoop Shoop). Like the rest of the show, the unexpected was chosen to shimmering effect and left this listener both joyful and a little pensive. “When you’ve got friends to wish you well. You’ll find your point when you will exhale..”

Boys Choir Of Harlem alumnus Xavier has received uncoerced praise for his vocal skills from some of the biggest names in the business including Mary J. Blige, Lena Horne, D’Angelo, TV on the Radio, The Rapture, and Ashford & Simpson. He’s also a Diesel U Music Award nominee and his U.K. debut on Virgin Records earned him a top ten hit, a cover of George Benson’s ‘Give Me the Night.’ Xavier has collaborated on recordings with Scissor Sisters, New Power Generation, Basement Jaxx vocalists Vula & Sharlene, Stephin Merritt, and LL Cool J.

Check this out The Delano – “Nova Social” (with Xavier in the band):

**NEXT SHOW: Nova Social record release at Littlefield. March 8th. 10pm**


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