Sam Sparro w/Nomi Ruiz (DJ set)
Monday, October 3
Better than: Jack Sparrow’s last few bloated outings.
If Sam Sparro‘s sophomore album Return To Paradise mirrored the 1998 film of the same name, then Sparro would certainly be Joaquin Phoenix’s imprisoned mad genius—albeit one with a kicked-up couture quotient—while longtime producer/bandmate Golden Touch would play the Vince Vaughn “BFF who returns to save his friend” role, and he’d also happen to be an electronic-music wizard. Meanwhile, the other inmates would be getting ready for synchronized dance routines.
The prison? That would be the high expectations that have built around the new album in the three years since Sparro released his self-titled debut.
But he might have figured out a smart way to escape—taking his time, and defusing expectations through experimentation: singing on tracks with Basement Jaxx and DMC; forming a supergroup with Mark Ronson and Theophilus London; writing for pop stars Adam Lambert and Natasha Bedingfield; remixing the likes of Miami Horror, OK Go and Sky Ferreira. Now, he’s returned to New York, a city with a history that influenced his imminent second album.
“I became very nostalgic for the feel of other time periods like the ’40s and the ’80s, because I didn’t like where music was at. It’s cyclical so I knew that something with some humanity would be back,” he said. His new material pushes toward that ideal. It is the soul music of days gone by, yet it is forward-thinking. (It would not be off-base to place him in a category with his old tourmate Adele.) It’s electronic, yet the human element is undeniable. The band improvises at times, yet no one misses a note. It’s pop with a very broad appeal—or, as those in the industry like to refer to it, an A&R rep’s wet dream.
Last night’s show was allegedly an industry showcase, but the crowd had an energy uncommon to music-biz gatherings. People were thrilled to see their man, and Sparro delivered the sass: “Hey, did you guys all catch Nomi Ruiz’s ridiculously balls-deep DJ set?” Before the stunningly beautiful “Shades Of Grey” he dryly announced, “So I wrote some ballads. Because I was sad.” The crowd groaned for him and when one audience member offered to “make it better,” he laughed, “I don’t know about that!” As crazy as the people went for earlier Sparro material like “Pocket,” newer songs like the upbeat “Yellow Orange Rays”—a story song with an Arrested Development-the-band vibe—was received well.
Sparro claimed that he was battling a cold and that his voice was ailing, but his illness didn’t make itself known through anything other than absolute precision and total control. His style is reminiscent of Meshach Taylor; his dance moves recall those of a young Freedom Williams. But this was no one-man show; he was backed by Stax-worthy funk and soul outfit that matched him every step of the way. The precision on display made it even harder to believe then that this was their first proper NYC show together; here’s to hoping that they all return sooner rather than later to our paradise.
Critical bias: It’s impossible not to want total world domination for someone this nice and this talented.
Overheard: “He reminds me of a young Morris Day & The Time.” “You’re right—he is a young Doris Day for our times!!”
Random notebook dump: After playing empowering “Happiness,” Sparro announced that it was written with his keyboard player Charlie Willcocks at Amy Winehouse’s studio while she was out.
We Could Fly
Let The Love In
21st Century Life/You’s A Nasty/Gypsy Woman
Yellow Orange Rays
Shades Of Gray
Hearts Like Us
Black & Gold
Wish I Never Met You