Musiq Soulchild: London Shepherd's Bush Empire

The sensitive charmer of nu-soul works his magic...

He may come from the City of Brotherly Love, but Musiq Soulchild is after the sisters. Low-slung classically-styled r'n'b vibes ripple from his fingertips as he sings about making sweet love, with full-on respect, to all the ladies of the world - and judging by tonight's atmosphere, his

old-fashioned courtship routine is working wonders. There's ooohing from the

stalls, aaaahing from the wings and baying from the balcony - most of it

female, and all of it delighted.

Unlike pecs'n'sweat-brandishing fellow soul-man D'Angelo, Musiq Soulchild likes to keep things low key. He's almost totally obscured by his woolly hat, oversized sunglasses, black PVC all-in-one and bright white Adidas, and he rarely strays more than a single pace away from his microphone. His band (bass, drums, keyboard, sax, 3 backing singers and a DJ who spends more time waving a lighter in the air than caressing the decks) too, are noticeably undemonstrative. This isn't about fancy dance moves or aggressively competitive fabulousness, this is simply about romance. He sings about the girl next door,the gushy feeling of having a lady cry in his arms, and, in startlingly polite new single 'Just Friends (Sunny)', how it's okay to be just friends.

To emphasise that he's not a complete push-over, and charm the fellas too, he fills in the set's weak spots with thumping rap basslines and jazzy sax

solos. He tries on a bit of beat-boxing and, when he can't think of anything

else to do, he testifies. He wants to set us all free, he says. White folk,

black folk, even purple folk. He asks us to sing along, so that every song

lasts at least half an hour.

The result isn't exactly a blow-the-roof-off soul review - Musiq lacks the brawn and superstar flash for that - but it doesn't matter. His territory is more Gaye than Diddy, more Wonder than Usher, so the emphasis is on the slow swoon of his blues-inflected voice rather than high-energy entertainment. After all, Musiq is the sort of guy who leaves flowers on the doorstep, poetry on the answerphone. It's not his moves and muscles that are on display, but his heart. How refreshing. More power to him.

April Long

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