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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisHe may have been in action since the top of the 1990s, but British singer/songwriter Seal hasn't exactly hit the road with regularity. The soulful pop star last came to Chicagoland five years ago and this particular performance was his only American stop this fall (continuing an impressive streak of bookings at The Venue that's already included Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and Bette Midler direct from her Las Vegas residency).
Even with the Seal's somewhat low profile on the touring circuit, he was far from rusty throughout a percolating 90-minute set that focused on several career crest with significant emphasis on a couple of current projects. The charismatic performer started by unveiling cuts from his most recent release System (Warner Bros.), a sophisticated club affair that has a European vibe written all over it, wrapped those ultra-smooth vocals fans have grown to cherish.
"If It's In My Mind, It's On My Face" and "Amazing" transformed the newly constructed theatre into a dance floor from the get go, with slickly programmed beats supplemented by an impressive three piece backing band. Those contagious cuts laid the perfect groundwork for "Killer," which at this stage of Seal's career has become a classic thanks to a confident croon colliding with those thumping bass beats. Fellow current cut "Just Like Before" shifted the tempo downward ever so slightly, but still swung with an entrancing guitar line that seemed tailor made for an after hours chill out session.
As the evening progressed, Seal dusted off a handful of radio singles, though he didn't just pull predictably from the most obvious choices. "Kiss From a Rose" and "Bring It On" were inevitable, but "Prayer For the Dying," "Don't Cry" and "Waiting For You" were nowhere in sight (and not really missed). "Crazy" proved to be the most guitar-charged rocker of the night that also found the singer mirroring Lenny Kravitz on the mic.
The set found additional variety as Seal previewed the forthcoming Soul (out November 11 on Warner Bros.), which is a covers affair that puts his spin on old school R&B classics. He dedicated Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" to the Windy City's very own political candidate (that would be Senator Barack Obama, though his name was never directly mentioned) and performed a priceless solo a cappella rendition of that classic. Given the vast temperature turns of the evening, Seal was impossible to pigeonhole, and based on the impressed audience reaction, would be welcome to return with much more frequency.
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