Seeing Raul Midon live on stage is a singular, incomparable event in the life of a music lover. Luckily for us, Midon saw fit to capture such a momentous occasion live for the world to share. While his three studio albums, especially the 2005 Arif Mardin produced tour de force State of Mind, are clinics on thoughtful, power-packed song craft and wildly dynamic singing, those who’ve never experienced him in person are deprived of witnessing Raul Midon in his purest form. His City Winery performance was not only another opportunity to see Midon is his element, but also a celebration of his live album Invisible Chains. His last solo effort, 2010’s Synthesis, featured top notch studio musicians like Dean Parks and Paulindo de Costa. Although his compositions were mature and lovely, the presence of the session band drowned out Midon’s guitar work, perhaps the most extraordinary element to his artistry. Invisible Chains, which was recorded over a two-night stint at Joe’s Pub back in April, will serve as the definitive testament of the most prodigious singer/songwriter of the 21st century.
Unlike most live shows one sees, a Raul Midon fan is just as, and in some cases more, excited to hear brand new songs as much as their favorites from his previous three albums. Midon obliged the crowd from the start, beginning the set with “Holding On,” a new song he co-wrote with singer Lizz Wright. In all, Midon performed five new songs, all of which are slated to be on his next studio album. The best of them was “If You Want Me To,” a song he wrote with Richard Bona. It had a lovely jazz samba feel to it, with Midon singing a thick R&B-inflected refrain over it, making it truly infectious tune. “Anastasio (Libertad)” may be Midon’s first official protest song, a story about a foreigner coming to America for a better life and getting something else, as he explained. It’s amazing how many times people cried out, “Again! Play it again,” whenever he did the unheard songs; desperately ecstatic pleas to get the words tattooed in their minds until they hear them another time.
“Not one Raul Midon concert is like the next,” he said. From show to show, he switches up the set list. And since Midon is such a prolific composer, some shows will have one set of new songs, and another show will feature a different set of new songs. As for the songs that his loyal and growing following are familiar with, Midon did not disappoint. He elevated his status as a one-man band to new heights, performing fan favorite “Sunshine (I Can Fly)” with a guitar and congas simultaneously, not to mention utilizing a mouth trumpet mimicry as well! The level of his virtuosity was simply unfathomable, and while the live album is a great audio document of such talent and the music is more than satisfying, it has to been seen to be believed. If all the lights in the City Winery went out and he proceeded to play, many in their seats would be believe Midon was joined on stage by three to four accompanying players, but it’s all him. His command of the guitar was on full display during “Invisible Chains,” the title track of the live album and DVD released that day. He was to play a reggae guitar line with a rocksteady bass line and still manage to solo, all while singing the lyrics with a virility that’s unmatched by anyone on current R&B radio. Midon’s now signature climax, “State of Mind” threw the crowd into fits, as he finds new ways to liven up his 2005 classic; this time he injected an old rap from a State of Mind outtake “Get Together,” originally performed in a 2004 live EP, proving his virtuosity goes even further than you thought, which at that point in the show, was uncanny. When he played Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” during his customary encore, it became clear that the best thing about Raul Midon is that he keeps the people guessing. With a catalog of rich material, and an unknown wealth of new songs he pulls out at any given moment, Midon has become a master of mood; a connoisseur of tension and release. It may be hard for people to believe such a versatile talent like Midon still exists in today’s music world. Pick up the Invisible Chains CD and DVD wherever you can if you don’t believe it. You’ll never be happier to have been so wrong.
Don’t Take It That Way
I Can’t Love You*
Sunshine (I Can Fly)
If You Want Me To*
Listen to the Rain
Waited All My Life
State of Mind
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (Encore)
Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneaddict)