Seal at Jackie Gleason

Photo by Jeffrey Delannoy
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Since Seal had his couple of big stateside hits in the Nineties (the seemingly immortal “Kissed By a Rose” being the most recognizeable), lately he seems to have been relegated to the role of Mr. Heidi Klum. So who goes to a Seal concert in Miami in 2007?

Well, for complicated and unimportant reasons, me, at least. Thursday night I found myself at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach, sitting in Seal’s catering room. If the man himself remains shrouded in mystery, seeming to forever exist in moody, dramatic still frames, his backstage fit: It was possibly the quietest backstage ever. No random women wandering about, background music blaring, or spilled bowls of M&Ms and bottles of whiskey. Instead there were nice, polite people nicely, politely eating from an impressive spread of fresh-cooked food to rival that of a hotel brunch. Did I mention it was quiet?

So who would open for Seal? An equally sincere purveyor of “nice” R&B? Not this time – and here is where the best surprise of the evening came, in the form of opener Shane Alexander.

A pleasantly scruffy blonde, Alexander is a singer/songwriter in the most classic American sense. (Even his outfit was classic American: a pink retro western shirt and dark denim). While he plays with a full band in his hometown of L.A., as well as on his albums (which, by the way, are all self-released), he’s performing solo on this tour, with only his guitar for protection.

Not that he needs any shield. Alexander is one of the most empathetic, talented guys-with-guitars to come along lately, in a way that kicks aside subgenres in the tradition of the straightforward troubadour. He gets compared to Jeff Buckley a lot, for obvious reasons, but that’s kind of lazy. Alexander’s timbre is chestier and rootsier, and instead of sounding tormented he sounds hopeful.

Americans love a modest underdog, and the audience was captive and quiet as Alexander went through his short, six-song set. For a guy alone in front of thousands of faces in theater seats, he was poised and engaged, hitting every picked guitar note, and every high, wailing “oooh” with ease. Peals of supporting applause issued forth randomly. It was like everyone wanted to hug this nice guy, and hoped all his dreams would come true. They most likely will.

After a short intermission, at just about 9:00 p.m. on the dot, it was time for the man of the hour. Playing with a full band, and a spare setup with no backdrop and some purple and white lights, Seal’s stage persona was more down to earth and even, oh, funkier than expected.

But here’s the dirty little secret of concerts by major acts: Much like producers can fix flubbed notes in the studio, effects boxes and engineering wizards can do the same live. That means from the theater, everything sounds fine. This time, though, watching from the wings, it was painfully clear that while Seal was hitting the notes of his first songs, he was doing so in an entirely different key than the rest of the band. Similarly it was hard to tell if the rhythm section also seemed overly loud to the crowd. More of this continued into the second song, but mercifully by the third, the man caught his groove. He bounced across the stage, really seeming like he was having fun, and his enthusiastic audience responded again in kind, if politely. When two women ran toward the front of the stage, they settled on sort of shimmying in front of the singer for a moment and pointing at him, and then returning after a moment to their seats.

Oh, and as for the crowd – it was exactly what you would expect: Thirtysomething women in flowy dresses and their grudgingly accepting dates. Hopefully it worked out for them at the end of the night. -- Arielle Castillo

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