Allen Stone’s Thanksgiving Eve show at 9:30 Club was full of gratitude. Touring ahead of the release of his fourth album (release date, TBA), the soulful Washingtonian—the state of—performed soulful favorites and new singles “Brown Eyed Lover,” “Taste Of You,” and “Warriors.”
Allen Stone’s band warmed up the crowd with a variation on James Brown’s “Sex Machine” prior to his taking stage at the 9:30 Club Thursday night. If you didn’t know what the soul-singing wunderkind from Washington state looked like before he emerged, you might have thought they brought out the wrong guy. In his wide-brimmed hat, Western-style knit parka, and large glasses he looked less like a singer and more like a nerdy cowboy about to rob a stagecoach before heading to Old Mexico.
But then he started singing (the appropriate-for-DC “What I’ve Seen,” in which he talks about how “politicians manipulate minds”) and any discussion of his appearance went out the window. Stone’s voice is darn near perfect for the kind of uplifting party/soul music he performs. At its best, it’s a voice that’s often compared to Stevie Wonder’s - while that’s not as evident on his records, it becomes very clear live, especially on songs like “Celebrate Tonight” and “Sleep,” arguably his most popular song.
At only 25, Stone is already a master showman and worked the crowd magnificently. He constantly bounced all over the stage, repeatedly engaged with the capacity crowd and urged them to dance, and said “Washington, DC” more times in one night than a city councilman says it in a year. At one point Stone divided the room in half for a “dance-off,” noting that people had no excuse for not dancing since he himself had been dancing all night and was from “one of the most rhythmically challenged areas of the United States.” His relentless enthusiasm for performing is infectious.
Looking at Allen Stone, it’s unlikely the first thing you’d think of is “soul singer.” His J. Mascis-Meets-Todd-Snider appearance and Billy the Kid sneer do a fantastic job of disguising the spectacular voice inside. It’s a voice that’s perfectly made to sing R&B, landing somewhere between Jamiroquai at his Stevie Wonder-invoking best, a soulful Jason Mraz, and a less depressed Ray Lamontagne.
Stone developed his voice singing in the same suburban Washington state church where his father was a preacher. Though he’s still just 25 he sounds like an old soul on his two records, 2010’s Last to Speak and his 2011 self-titled album – or at least as much like an old soul can when singing about Facebook status updates as he does on “Contact High,” one of the standout tracks on Allen Stone.