October 6th, 2010 | Live reviews

Today’s pop music landscape is littered with funky white boys, fair-skinned crooners approximating the smooth yet bluesy vocal tics and soulful sounds of a bygone era of R&B.  Robin Thicke, Mayer Hawthorne, Adam Levine, and Justin Timberlake are only a few of the names among this blooming population of singers whose falsettos are convincing reluctant listeners that soul music is not only a black man’s game.  Of these potential R&B counterparts to Eminem, British-born Jamie Lidell may very well be the most effortlessly and naturally soulful of them all.  It only takes hearing one note of his simultaneously gritty and delicate voice to believe that he was meant to sing this type of music.  His vocals invoke the spirits of James Brown and Marvin Gaye without the sense of novelty one might expect from a white guy so audaciously attempting to carry on the soul music tradition.  Lidell’s September 30 show at the Echoplex only served as further proof that he is one of the great torchbearers for contemporary R&B, not some white dude who can do a mean impersonation of the soul greats.

As the clock struck 11, Lidell, clad in a black hoodie concealing a rippling, vertically striped shirt, hit the stage with a motley crew of musicians seemingly selected to match his notorious eccentricity.  With a percussionist flailing his stiff, raven dreadlocks throughout the show, a guitarist who seemed to have only reached puberty recently, and a keyboardist who bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Rosso from Freaks and Geeks, the musicians looked like the embodiment of a Craigslist-constructed band.  However, as soon as they launched into “Compass,” the show’s opening number and the title track of Lidell’s latest album, any doubts anyone had about these seemingly mismatched players were instantly erased.  In spite of the disparity in their appearance, the band played in perfect harmony with a great balance between precision and swing.  As they worked on establishing nasty grooves (as well as the occasional tender accompaniment for ballads), Lidell showcased his considerable abilities as both a singer and a showman.  When the largely middle-aged crowd wasn’t transfixed by his impassioned gyrating (which was mirrored by their own Elaine Benes-esque dancing), they were admiring his impressive vocal chops.  On the poignant torch song “She Needs Me,” Lidell demonstrated his skill in penetrating the hearts of listeners with his warm, emotive, soaring voice.  In the middle of the show, the band deserted the stage and left him to perform a dazzling display of beatboxing with the assistance of a loop pedal and laptop.  As Lidell wrapped the show with an encore consisting of pleasers “Multiply” and “Little Bit of Feel Good,” he sent the crowd home with the feeling that they hadn’t experienced a facsimile of a soul singer.—No, they got the real thing.

Amorn Bholsangngam