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MUSIC | Alexander O'Neal at the Dakota Jazz Club: Not a concert, but a "partay"
Alexander O'Neal, solo R&B performing artist, gifted the Twin Cities with two sold-out performances at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant on Thursday, Dec. 22. I requested to review this show because the last time I saw Mr. O'Neal perform live was back in the very early 80's when he was with Flyte Tyme (or The Time ... I can't remember!). I did remember the remarkable showmanship and amazing harmonies, vocals, and funk rhythms. I was hoping to see a glimpse of his roots in this current performance. The recordings that have kept him in the public eye since those days include two Gold albums (Hearsay, All True Love) and high-ranking performances as a solo artist as well as duets with Cherrelle ("Saturday Love" and "Never Knew Love Like This").
There was no press kit with details on his band and backing vocalists, but I lucked out and was seated next to a woman who works with two of the musicians, Jeff Cohen and Vernon Odom on keyboards, who are also part of the Maxx Band—a group that performs often at Arnella's in St. Paul (review bonus: Go see them!). Art Haynes was on bass, and the other backing band members played perfectly, often being "conducted" in their tempo by O'Neal which added a bit of a big-band feel to the funk. The backing vocalists were stellar in style, rhythm, and sound.
A superbly funk downbeat started the, what turned out to be, short performance, starting with "My House." The set included "Sentimental," "My Sunshine," "If You Were Here Tonight," (by far the most squeals-from-the-female-audience-members-producing performance) "All True Man," and "Fake" with holiday classics "This Christmas," a heartfelt rendition of "The Christmas Song" and O'Neal's own "My Gift to You," and "Remember Why It's Christmas".
O'Neal was quick to point out that this was not a concert but a "partay," which encouraged the crowd to get a little more relaxed. The first floor was in the groove and the balcony had dancing going on. The man rocked the audience with a voice as velvet as ever. He graced the stage suited out in great tailoring, oversized white cuffs, and a white hankie which proved an effective prop to get the audience up and clapping.
There were some cheesy moments in the beginning that made for a less-than-elegant event including an awkward introduction of Mr. O'Neal's wife by the Dakota's owner Lowell Pickett. The woman seemed to be O'Neal's PR agent who was selling his CD's (accompanied by a free t-shirt!). She may be his wife, too, I'm not sure. But the CD-Signature Cologne-Free T-shirt pitching was, well, yikes—not cool. A spokesman introduced O'Neal himself as Alexander Oh-So-Good O'Neal. Yikes again as he's better than good. He's a Gold record selling R&B artist—nothing Oh-So-Good about that. More like Damn-Straight-He's-Good. I'd be lying if I said O'Neal controlled the stage or the performance that night. There weren't any awkward moments for him on stage, but there weren't any stand-out moments either. Overall a less-than-highfalutin, but at moments, a furiously funky night.
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© 2011 Betsy Gabler