Yacht rock – that newly coined obnoxious term housing funky, but not too funky sub-genre of smoking jackets, brandy, and Hall & Oates – seems to have made an ironic (at least among hipsters) comeback. It’s current queen has to be Lisa Stansfield (or maybe Sade), has finally come back to tour the states after a 20-year absence. And I mean that in the most glowing way possible. Her albums are pumped dance/house and grooving 90’s R’n’B affairs. But live it is all smooth sailing.
After a few minor early frustrations with sound glitches, Captain Lisa and crew found their groove third song in with a cover of Barry White’s, “Never Never Gonna Give You Up.” And one could metaphorically feel The Fillmore theater leaving the harbor to set this cruise sailing around the bay.
But the house boat party really lit up during, “Everything Will Get Better” when the audience of mostly gays joined in the chorus to sing along causing Lisa to literally reel back in surprise losing her place in the song.
She looked on as if she didn’t expect that her music would be so loved or remembered like it is in her home country. But once it was clear the gays, and everyone else for that matter, were fully on board; the ice was broken, the cruise was in full party mode, and it was through the rafters from then on out.
Stansfield blew up in the US with her ’89 smash, “Been Around The World” but was more mainstream in Europe, where she was the biggest selling British female star of the 1990s. Stateside, she has been more popular with the gay community where her anthems like “This Is The Right Time” and “People Hold On” were huge in the gay clubs, and songs like “Never Gonna Fall” got epic remix treatments perfect for a drag queen lip-sync.
She, like Stevie Nicks and Tori Amos, were what we in the 90s queer scene called intellectual gay icons. Not the full on pop drama and theater of Cher or Madonna but more subtle and refined and sensual. And you saw it all on stage Friday. The band was so tight (in sound and attire) that at any moment it could have snapped like a rubber band sending the Stansfield steamer off course into rough waters but the band never faltered; sax solos, keyboard jams, a capella harmonies… all held together by one seasoned crew and a captain clearly in love with performing.
Out of all the live shows I’ve been to, this was the first one where the “encore” felt earned. They didn’t just hop off stage, wait 3 minutes, and come back out. The audience was deafening with their chanting “Lisa! Lisa! Lisa!”…. She and the band came back, ending the night with a cover of the Candi Staton disco classic and gay anthem, “Young Hearts Run Free”.
And I believe the only reason people ran free from the theater Friday was because the folks at the Fillmore rudely threw up the house lights right after the final song ended. Otherwise I am certain the packed audience would have cheered to noise pollution levels for a third and probably even fourth encore.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention the opening act DJ Fela Kutchii. For the record, I don’t like quick mixing. But when you only have an hour or so, you gotta do what you gotta do. And kudos to Ms. Kutchii for doing some tasteful quick mixing and setting the right tone. Her energy on stage was the right mix of playing songs and hyping/interacting with the crowd. And most importantly you could tell she LOVED everything she was spinning and trusted her music and the audience.
One was quickly reminded how you CANNOT keep a good song down no matter how old it is. When the opening bars of Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” came over the speakers the crowd erupted as if Luther had risen from the grave. But this crowd knew every song from Hall & Oates to CeCe Penniston. By the time her set was over, she had bestowed the entire crowd boarding passes and it was, “All aboard the Love Boat,” for Lisa Stansfield.
Best of Set:
DJ Fela Kutchii: Luther Vandross – “Never Too Much”
Lisa Stansfield: “Hole In My Heart/People Hold On” (though the audience CLEARLY favored “Change”)
Show Stealer: Mick Donnelly on sax fully embracing what people love about a great 80s (style) sax solo! Also, special mention to keyboardist Dave Oliver (known to the band as 80’s Dave) for having the hair and a suit ripped straight out of Miami Vice.
Favorite Moment: When Lisa got thrown off (and surprised) due to the audience sing-a-long on, ”Everything Will Get Better”
Here is the full set list of what you either witnessed or missed:
Never, Never Gonna Give You Up (Barry White cover)
Hole In My Heart
Make Love to Ya
Everything Will Get Better
Time to Make You Mine
Someday (I’m Coming Back)
You Can’t Deny It
The Real Thing
People Hold On
All Around the World
Young Hearts Run Free (Candi Staton cover)