There’s an art to choosing the right opening act: Someone who isn’t so different from the headliner that the audience will be confused, yet different enough to make for an interesting show. Someone who doesn’t necessarily showboat, yet can get the crowd excited for the main act. Someone who ups the ante for the headliner without stealing the show. Norwegian-Born, New York-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Jarle Bernhoft, aka Bern/Hoft was pretty much a textbook example of how to accomplish all of that when he supported Allen Stone at The Orange Peel last Friday.
Not that Bern/Hoft is textbook. Although the one-man band, thanks to the loop pedal, has been thoroughly explored, the musician managed to find new inroads. His vocal range is astonishing, allowing him to accompany himself while building rhythms and melodies with an array of instruments. He also adds dance moves and a kind of tongue-in-cheek insouciance to the building of sounds, making the loop pedal less of a tool and more of a canvas on which to create a performance-art piece. One that sounds deeply soulful and danceable.
Not to be outdone, soul/funk/r&b artist Allen Stone took the stage with his seven-member band, launching into the reggae-meets-disco-ish “Upside.”
The set, including five tall robot-treelike structures as part of the lighting, and a giant, glowing lifesaver-like disc on the back wall. But the all of that paled in comparison to Stone’s horn-section, a two-man trumpet-and-trombone tour de force who not only performed some of the fiercest solos of the evening but also pulled off synchronized dance moves on a riser at the back of the stage.
The Stevie Wonder-esque “Celebrate Tonight” brought the mood up and “Love” showcased a heavy stomp of a beat that turned the song into a march with a strut. “Love — it’s a natural fact. Love — every bit you create, you get back,” the song says. Like a lot of Stone’s material, it examines ideas of higher consciousness, juxtaposed against contagious melodies and infectious grooves.
At one point, Stone shared a story with the crowd about a mystical experience at another concert, and then offered a sort of blessing for open-heartedness and good vibes. His performance was definitely practiced and polished, but the sentiment he expressed was absolutely genuine.
The professionalism of the show, from easy transitions between songs to complex time signature changes, was apparent. At times, the polish could have given way to some rawness and grit — Stone’s voice lends itself to that as much as to soaring falsetto and palpable swagger.
That Stone is based in Seattle seems odd, too. Not that the Pacific Northwest is contractually obligated to turn out post-grunge acts for ever, but there was nothing water-logged or dark about Stone’s offerings, from the expansive and aching “Satisfaction” to the sweaty, thumping “Symmetrical.”
The audience joined in on the hand-clap-led “Perfect World,” a new song. Vintage organ tones gave way to booming drums and provided more opportunities for horn section dance-offs. “Unaware” also got a huge crowd reaction. That song, while slower, is one of Stone’s hits. Warm and sultry, it nods to the best of blue-eyed soul and allows the singer’s voice to really unfurl to its smoothest reaches and most emotive apexes.
“When the right combination of people come together and the right groove is played, there’s an energy that can be felt by each and every person in the audience,” Stone said from the stage. “Open your heart and let us in … and you’ll leave with a little Allen Stone on your shoulder going, ‘F**k yeah.’”
View a crowd album here