Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington | April 27
It was an excited crowd that mulled around the Michael Fowler Centre Foyer in anticipation of the upcoming performances from Joss Stone and India.Arie, two highly acclaimed female musicians in their own right.
Once seated in the hazy blue lit concert hall, it wasn’t long before Joss Stone’s band walked on stage and began to play, gradually warming up the floor for the sleek, barefooted vocal powerhouse who was about to arrive and deliver. As she glided onto the stage and struck the first few notes, there remained little question of Stone’s ability to execute an electric vocal performance, one reflective of her trademark soul/gospel informed style.
Although impressive, there were times where it felt a little like her performance, along with the band’s, lacked dynamic and genuine connection. The band in particular sometimes gave an impression that they were merely going through the motions. However, Stone came across a joyful and carefree performer, often going on a whim as to what song would be played next, since she had not written a set list. Some might have deemed this unprofessional, but it rightly fitted with her on stage persona, that of a free spirited, somewhat flighty, flower child. Although Stone was effortless and engaging, it felt as if true onstage gravitas only arrived right at the end of her set. This was due to the surprise presence of India.Arie, who appeared on the last song next to Stone’s back up vocalist and sung a rich and earthy accompaniment, changing the mood completely.
Unfortunately, the double billing of the two ‘soul-stresses’ made it hard to not compare one with the other—thus it seemed that where Stone may have lacked structure and relatable conviction, Arie certainly made up for in her performance. During one of Arie’s early songs ‘I am not my hair’, she suddenly tore off the long braided wig she had on, flung it to the floor, and laughed. This type of fortitude, along with her highly regarded song writing skills, led to a profound and textured performance, which was backed by a more enthused band. Her onstage banter was earnest and engaging, which along with her lyrics, reflected the unique ability she has to contextualise her personal emotions into universal human experiences. Her rich, buoyant voice resounded at a soothing and powerful frequency and she used it immaculately. There were some dynamics within her set that remained questionable, such as her frequently going on and off stage, leaving her band playing along to a recorded track of her singing. Arie’s set was also highly emotionally charged and was crowned by the finale in which her mother, along with Stone and her band, all took to the stage in a tearful, end of tour farewell that she confidently conducted.
All up, the night demonstrated an impressively high level of musicianship and vocal ability (basically everyone on stage could sing amazingly), thus leaving the mark of a successful and high calibre performance, although some elements could perhaps have been better.