That is the only way to describe my state of being as I exited The Crocodile that night following one of the most soulful, genuine, and elegantly constructed sets I have ever witnessed. As soon as I crossed the threshold of the Croc I knew I was in for a treat. The opening act, Snoh Aalegra, had already solidified her aesthetic on the main stage. A stark white dual tier keyboard and a beautiful fruitwood finished drum set dominated the back half of the stage while three lone immaculate white mic stands stood still on the shallow apron of the cozy stage. The whole arrangement seemed have been plucked right from the snow-kissed woodlands of Narnia. In fact, I’m almost positive that I spotted a sound technician with a bit of goat hair peeking out from the space between his cuffed black skinny jeans and the top line of his black Old Skools. The centerpiece of the stage was a large rectangular sign that read “Snoh Aalegra” in illuminated letters that gave off a warm chartreuse glow. Even though I had never heard of Snoh, I was already so impressed by her commitment to establishing an impressive visual presence and anxious for her to share her craft with me and the 450 strangers that were my company for the evening. Ok obviously I have wasted a lot of your time just now describing the stage set up and I’m sure you’re already tired of me, but the experience I had that night was so mind-bendingly moving I’m hoping to take you there with a frustrating amount of accuracy. Stick with me. The wait makes the destination that much sweeter.
After a brief interval of absent-minded milling about that every concert-goer is all to familiar with, out onto the stage walks a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist (who had a mic and provided back up vocals which was a rare sight and a wonderful treat), and a keys player that went on to impress me so much I considered transferring all of my assets to him as a gift. A gift that would not even come close to the compensation he deserves after the sounds he bestowed upon my external acoustic meatuses (or “earholes” if you prefer). They opened with a funk-laden instrumental that had me feeling all kinds of feelings down to my very core. The GIGANTIC man in a Carhart jacket directly in front of me, the constantly annoyed employee behind me, the small ethnically ambiguous woman who kept touching my old Adidas quarter-zip fleece, the belligerently drunk college sophomore in the middle of the crowd who just finished scream-singing an off key rendition of Get You as if it would coax Daniel out onto the stage, and every other person that was way too close to me all immediately fell away and I was fully captured by the music. THIS IS ALL BEFORE I HEARD ANY VOCALS. After a few minutes of my mind frolicking through this sonic wonderland, Snoh emerged from backstage in a white shimmering crop top that glowed when the stage lights struck it, and a white mini skirt made of parka material. She wasted no time and dove right into her first song. I was so automatically ready to be unimpressed by the opener. Statistical discrimination in its pure form. However, I was suddenly confronted with a voice that can only be the product of genetic experiments using the DNA of Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, and a pinch each of Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey. After she sung a few songs that each saturated my soul with so much joy that it seeped from my pores, the Persian-born and Swedish-raised singer revealed that she was struggling through an intense chest cold, but she still wanted to put on the best show she could for us. I am eternally grateful for her struggle because she delivered a set that was packed with crisp runs, driving basslines, startlingly soulful piano riffs, and hauntingly beautiful harmonies. Her band consistently created an atmosphere packed full of sweet syncopation and funky phrases. Someone needs to give Snoh her pilot’s license because she glided through this atmosphere with a disgusting amount of precision and poise. Carefully capitalizing on every tiny tidbit of musical mastery that her band so obviously possessed.
OK OK OK OK OK I’M SORRY LET’S REALLY GET DOWN TO BRASS TACKS.
(But I had to wait hours for this set so really I’m just trying to give you a symbolically similar experience)
A playlist of oldies and funk instrumentals plays softly over the speakers as the stage crew switched a few cords here and there, replaced an instrument or two, removed the “Snoh Aalegra” sign, performed one last sound check, and then disappeared into the black curtains that so dutifully prevent the audience from seeing backstage. The stage then remained silent for some time as Stevie Wonder and a host of other soul superstars played on the speakers above the increasingly antsy audience who would cheer every time a song faded out. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime of loitering, Daniel Caesar takes the stage. Toronto is doing something right because as soon as his silky vocals sailed through the air I forgot about the three hours I had spent standing on concrete leading up to that moment. He opened with an immaculate rendition of Japanese Denim that had the crowd in a frenzy. Everyone pushed closer to the stage as if they had a terminal disease and proximity to Daniel was the only cure. Nearly tangible beams of colored light shot through the fog-saturated air perfectly synchronized with the music being played as Daniel and his band fearlessly and flawlessly performed song after song. The band was immensely talented (insert another joke about selling my soul to an amazing keys player because WOW), and Daniel put his whole heart into every song he performed. We soon learned that he too was struggling through an illness: the flu. During his set I was constantly reminded of the historic Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals in which Michael Jordan put up 38 points while the flu ravaged his immune system. Crystal clear falsetto was Daniel’s jump shot and sinfully decadent runs were his near perfect free throw percentage. I was astounded by the amount of excellence I was confronted with that night. It felt as if I had entered another dimension where everyone grew up singing perfect music instead of learning how to speak. Daniel made sure we left completely satisfied; he perfectly performed almost the entirety of his new album Freudian. One hundred percent of the audience was completely checked in for his whole set. He even breathlessly thanked us for holding him down a couple times throughout the evening. He was so grateful for our energy and that made us just want to emanate even more support and excitement. It was a textbook example of a mutualistic symbiotic relationship. As we loved him more, he gave us more. As he finished his set and thanked us one more time I felt a bit of panic.
“NO THIS CAN’T BE OVER.” Screamed my subconscious.
Those ever-looming black curtains enveloped him and my dreams died. Just to be immediately resurrected by an excellent encore performance of Get You. Daniel put just as much energy into his last song as his first and I could have stayed there all night listening to his buttery vocals melt over those sultry instrumentals all night, but all good things must come to an end.
That night was a flurry of musical excellence. I got to surf on waves of smooth R&B that is also perfectly aware of the time period it is being created in. It’s timeless, it’s beautiful, it’s relatable, it’s effervescent, it reminds us of the best times, it’s as cozy as your mom’s favorite sweater, it makes you remember your first kiss like it just happened….
it was Daniel Caesar.
By: Isaiah Bradford