I'd been seeing posters all over town advertising Aloe Blacc and the Grande Scheme's show at City Hall with Air Dubai and FoodChain. What those posters failed to mention -- and thus prepare me for -- was Maya Jupiter, who possesses the most angelic Australian voice I've ever heard. She spit the most poetic, groovy and passionate raps to an equally unexpecting crowd. Inside City Hall last night, there was not one still set of hips, not one hand stuffed into a pocket and hardly anyone casually conversing during the opening, headlining and closing sets. It was soul felt throughout, with some of the smoothest rising vocalists around.
Air Dubai took to the City Hall stage at 8:00, which seemed a little early considering that most people were most probably barely even thinking about venturing out at that time on such a brisk Wednesday night. Nonetheless, the band, shoelessly clad and endlessly energetic, threw down for those who were on hand and having trouble getting warmed up. With some prodding from Jon Shockness, the crowd swayed a bit but didn't really get the blood flowing until Maya Jupiter danced onto the stage.
Have you seen Maya Jupiter? Have you heard Maya Jupiter? I was standing dead center and got blasted with her raw poetics from the moment she took the stage. Announcing that she just flew in from Australia to tour with Aloe Blacc -- literally, Blacc allegedly picked her up from the airport himself at 6:00 p.m. -- Jupiter bounced from each end of the stage, as Blacc stood at center stage orchestrating the band with his back to audience and remaining that way for Jupiter's whole set, bouncing his hands along to the beat of each of her songs, playfully plucking at the air. Jupiter's vitality on stage pushed whatever cold weather front is currently passing through Denver right out the door. The highlight of her set came during "I Am," a powerful spoken-word piece.
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Although few folks seemed to be aware that Blacc was on stage for the entirety of Jupiter's set, he most certainly was. Rocking a vintage aviator jacket that was subsequently lost when he took center stage, Blacc sported dapper, white fitted pants, a trim vest and a loose-fitting shirt. The theme of the evening was that of soul, felt through and through. And while soul often sounds and feels different to all of us, we can all agree that Blacc has soul. And lot's of it.
His voice forces you to lead your body with your hips, purse your lips, close your eyes and imagine life when jazz clubs were filled with cigar-smoking, whiskey-n-milk-sipping music lovers. Everyone waiting for "I Need a Dollar" was even more excited when he covered "Billie Jean," a version comparable to any Michael Jackson cover, if not the best in recent memory. Things got a little funky when he tapped into "Loving You Is Killing Me" and slowed down a tad when he offered up the backstory to "I Am Beautiful," a song dedicated to getting past the ugliness that people can sometimes show.
Foodchain came out and rapped after a quick sound check between the sets. Unfortunately, it was getting a little late, which prompted people to start heading home. By the time they actually got started, almost half the venue had cleared out -- their loss. The four MCs did their best to maintain the vibe that Blacc and Jupiter created, but it might have been a little too hard following the sexy saxophone and powerful jazz ambience that preceded it. All in all, Foodchain put a nice wrapper on the just-past-midnight-packaged show.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I listen to Mos Def and Stevie Wonder a lot. Aloe Blacc has been added to that playlist. By The Way: Maya Jupiter is like Nelly Furtado, but not Canadian, and totally capable of making everyone feel her struggles and triumphs through her lyrical talents. Random Detail: Air Dubai sounded better while I was standing outside for some reason. It was just a bit screeching for the set.