Jules Farman finds the warmth of Aloe Blacc is enough for a chilly evening in Hammersmith.
For the frozen crowd entering the Hammersmith Apollo, the term ‘bleak mid-winter’ holds such resonance. In a week which has seen temperatures in the UK plummet, the economic crisis deepen and record high unemployment figures, you cannot help but feel that Aloe Blacc’s ‘I Need A Dollar’ would be the perfect soundtrack.
Let’s come to Blacc later, for first up 1Xtra’s DJ Sarah Love has to defrost the cavernous and echoey Apollo. The set does not start well, as her mixing is drowned out by disinterested crowd chatter and a distinct lack of bass. This chilly reception leads to her decks packing up after two mixes, not that the crowd notice, and an equally disinterested soundman saunters on stage to sort it. As the crowd consume a few drinks, their winter clothing starts to come off, and Ms Love’s decks are de-iced to resume action. To celebrate this resurrection Aussie MC Maya Jupiter joins forces with Ms Love, to recommence the Battle of Hammersmith. It’s a slow start. Initial crowd shout-outs are unreciprocated, but following a mix of old and new hip-hop, reggae and soul classics infused with Jupiter’s MCing, the crowd at the end are on stage busting out their ’best’ Michael Jackson dancing, and entering into an audience rendition of ‘Rappers Delight’ in a late bid to beat Little Mix’s karaoke attempt to Christmas number one.
Exiting the stage, whilst introducing Aloe Blacc’s backing band The Grand Scheme from Blacc’s native California, Love and Jupiter’s efforts would have you closing your eyes and thinking you were in the warm sunshine of Orange County in the now intimate and cosy Apollo. Entering to refrains of ‘Politician (Reprise)’, Aloe Blacc has an audience ready to party. Acting much like an evangelical preacher Blacc welcomes everyone to his Church of Love, Peace and Happiness, displayed with appropriate hand signage of the outline of a heart, peace salute and a beaming smile. The audience replies back in kind before Blacc launches into current album title track ‘Good Things’.
Over the next hour and half the crowd are taught to appreciate the less materialistic things in life. During ‘You Make Me Smile’ Blacc gets every member of the audience to give everyone they’re with a big hug. After returning back to his MCing and beat-boxing roots, to show he’s still got it, in a homage to TV program Soul Train, he splits the audience in two inviting wannabe Tyrone Swans to body-pop and get their funk on. ‘I Need a Dollar’, done in its original and reggae guise, descends into a mass audience sing-a-long. Gutsily enough it’s played as the last song before the encore and fearing a mass exodus, it’s to Aloe Blacc’s credit that the crowd remain. Showmanship aside, Blacc has got a voice like smooth rich chocolate to match, demonstrated in the encore with his version of ‘California Dreaming’, which has Blacc duetting with The Grand Scheme’s saxophonist on this sultry rendition of the Mamas and Papas classic. Equally his take on Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatale’ is so distinct from its original, you would be easily forgiven (if it were not for the lyrics) of mistaking it for one his own.
Whilst you need a dollar, and a few more, to get into Aloe Blacc’s Church of Love, Peace and Happiness the audience tonight has been treated to warm Californian soul, to melt away the mid-winter blues.