The UK singer invokes Janis and delivers the concert equivalent of a really good chick flick Tuesday at the Warfield. – Eric K. Arnold
Covering “No Woman No Cry” can easily devolve into contrived cliche. But somehow British blue-eyed soul sensation Joss Stone pulled it off, her ten-piece band adopting a jazzy, uptempo arrangement that allowed her bold, brassy voice to shine. If she didn’t exactly make the song her own, she at least put a distinctive stamp on it.
Stone’s Bob Marley moment came at the finale of a ninety-plus-minute Warfield set in which she strutted to and fro in a cute lil’ psychedelic minidress (think Liz Hurley in “Austin Powers”), coquettishly flirted with the audience in her between-song banter, and absolutely justified the Everest-sized mountain of hype quickly accumulating behind her with an impressive display of talent, chops, and fiery exuberance.
Stone’s booming, at times almost overpowering, voice sounded like a cross between such legendary divas as Teena Marie, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin. She’s got Marie’s trilling upper register, Franklin’s breathy resonance, and Joplin’s ability to dive headfirst into a song and not come up for air. Thankfully, Stone only slipped into Mariah Carey-esque overkill mode a couple of times.
It’s no fluke that Stone’s sold, like, ten gazillion albums (ed: 1.2 million of the new one as of March); her retro style suits her well, lending an air of maturity and depth to much of her material – okay, so “Put Your Hands on Me Baby” wasn’t that deep — which has apparently crossed over to her fan base as well. Most pop music ingénues attract audiences several years younger than themselves; Stone, who turned 21 just last month, skewed considerably older, her predominantly female following extending well into the forties and beyond. Some of the more seasoned folks looked as if they might have even watched Joplin herself (probably Stone’s single most obvious influence) perform a take-no-prisoners set back in the days.
The concert’s highlights were frequent and plentiful, from a sex-bomb rendition of the cheeky “I’ve Got a Right to Be Wrong” to hits like “Tell Me ‘Bout It” to a surprise medley of Sly Stone, Luther Vandross, and Jill Scott tunes performed by the backing singers to a funky drum ‘n’ bass solo duet. “I’m Only Human,” co-written with Oakland’s Raphael Saadiq, started out bold and brassy, then swiftly turned mellow and vulnerable. “What were we thinking, baby? What do we do now?” Stone asked, playing the part of a character caught up in a passion play that’s taken an unexpected emotional turn.
Before Stone even took the stage, support act Ryan Shaw channeled both Sam Cooke and Terence Trent D’Arby on his opening number, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” adding James Brown-like intensity and tasteful Stax/Volt influences to several original numbers while not forgetting the Motor City with his closer, a cover of Junior Walker’s “Shotgun.” Stone is already a star — on her way to becoming a superstar, perhaps — but if what the Warfield saw Tuesday was any indication, Shaw might one day be headlining the venue himself.