Somehow in all my years of living an hour and a half from Cleveland, I never made it to the Grog Shop. I blame this on laziness mostly, but also a lack of knowledge on how awesome a venue it is. Sunday night for Aloe Blacc was my first show there and I knew as soon as I walked into the venue that the show would be awesome. The Grog Shop is a small club in Cleveland heights with low ceilings and a good sized bar. It's got a great vibe; it's clearly run by people who love music.
After a great warm up set from MuAmin Collective, Turkish Mexican Israeli Australian (seriously) Maya Jupiter took the stage. She does some interesting dancehall/rap stuff but I was mostly interested in her backing band which was awesome. She played a few songs and did a "who's ready for Aloe Blacc shout out?!" and left the stage, while the band stayed. I was still sitting at the bar because I figured since the band was still on the stage that Aloe still had to set up. And then they started playing "I Need a Dollar". It took a painfully long minute to set in, but I finally realized that The Grand Scheme was backing Jupiter and that Aloe's entrance was imminent, so I jumped up.
From beginning to end, Blacc's stage presence was all James Brown. From the running onstage to a musical interlude, to the dance moves, to the between song banter, the man has his soul persona down pat. This is the part of the article where I start gushing so be warned. What followed his entrance was one of the most fun, genuine, pure live music experiences I've ever had. The crowd was relatively small at only about 50 people and Aloe made sure that the environment was intimate and personal. He constantly engaged with the crowd and danced his ass off, and we all let it be known that we appreciated it.
The greatest thing about the concert was that it felt like a show. It wasn't just a collection of songs sung live, it was a performance in every aspect. Aloe bounced from song to song with stories and conversations in between, worked his way seamlessly through a medley of tunes, let the band jam to a Sly Stone-esque breakdown (which ended in Green Day, believe it), and did I mention he danced? The man could be ripped straight out of 1960 Detroit. Every gesture was a throwback to the classic soul artists and it's evident how Aloe feels his music.
The second greatest thing was the Grand Scheme. Aloe's backing band is a tight, ridiculously talented group of musicians. I'm a sucker for soul or hip hop with live bands, but the Grand Scheme takes it to another level. They inject such energy and intensity into the music that it's palpable. At one point, Blacc had the crowd work out a rhythm on their own (clapping and stomping) and the Grand Scheme individually began improvising to the beat until it came together into a funky jam. So smooth.
As a blogger, it's easy to get caught up in the constant barrage of new music, reputation, who breaks what story, and trends. We try at Those Who Dig to stay far away from this world, and keep our music blog about the music; the sounds and aural pleasures that make us feel and groove. It's experiences like this show that reaffirm my faith in music and humanity. This is what music is supposed to be – honest, full of emotion, fun, and genuine. You forget about your troubles and your fatigue, close your eyes, move your feet, and feel the joy.
Here's a taste of the awesomeness of Aloe Blacc live: