The night was unusually warm for late September–summer’s final gasp before conceding to fall. Walking into Brooklyn Night Bazaar the line snaked all the way down the stairs; eager faces reflected in gold speckled mirrors, conversation teeming with anticipation: “What songs do you think he’ll play?” “Did you listen to his last release?” Mine verged more on questions of how he would set up and execute this show.
A year and a half ago I reviewed SG Lewis’ performance at Baby’s All Right for Bandsintown. Though the majority of his songs feature various artists supplying the vocals, that night it was just him on stage surrounded by his computer, two guitars, and a keyboard. I figured, maybe he’ll be singing the songs himself, but, ultimately, he sung only one song that night. Yes, the show was extremely pleasant and seeing him live for the first time was a treat, yet, I couldn’t help like feeling that there was something missing, that there was something more that wasn’t being tapped into. Regardless, these thoughts quickly dissipated away as one swayed to “No Less” or “Warm."
It wasn’t until his show last week that those thoughts came to the vanguard once more.
Amidst the crowd, peering faces lit in hues of pinks and blues and yellows, one felt the electric energy pulsing through the room. As the lights dimmed the conversation died into silence and then whooping cheers suddenly erupted as SG Lewis and company came on stage. This time around there was an extra set of keyboards and base, a drum set, and two mics in addition to his regular set up. We were going to see something magical tonight, you could feel it lingering in the air.
SG Lewis’ tracks have the incredible knack of feeling both expansive and intimate– making room all the while pulling you in closer and closer. Translating that feeling live, especially when taking into account the countless pieces that come together in the recordings can be a challenge, and even more so if it’s only one person attempting this on their own. This is what felt off with his performance at Baby’s.
But not anymore.
Performing with SG that night were members of his live band – a drummer, a keyboardist/bassist, and two vocalists (one female, one male). By adding these members to the lineup, SG Lewis managed to flesh out his songs, which allowed his tracks to breathe, expand, and come to life. It brought this effervescence to his performance, which was not missed on by the crowd, who jumped and hollered the entire night, often times overshadowing the vocalists themselves as they sang along to the tunes.
There was also one incredible surprise that night: Toulouse. As stated before, SG Lewis employs various vocalists in his tracks, all of whom can’t be present for an entire tour to perform live alongside him. But the stars aligned that night and Toulouse, who sings on “Times We Had,” made it on stage just in time to see the crowd burst with excitement, surprise, and wonder. In other words, the crowd lost it (myself included, mind you).
Amidst the fog, the flickering neon lights, and the screaming crowds, I was witness to something grand, something more powerful than the music: the growth of an artist whose work I have long admired and followed. SG Lewis cut his teeth in the London club circuit, he’s no stranger to performing for a crowd, and that’s evident in his live shows. You see his DJ experience appear in between his songs, often fitting dance-oriented, electro-based tracks between his popular vocalized tunes like “Yours,” “All Night,” and “Meant to Be.” It makes the music feel paced and roomy, which in turn relaxes and unwinds the crowd right before shifting gears and winding them up again. He works the room, much in the same way you expect a DJ at a club to: reading the audience and giving them not necessarily what they want, but what they didn’t realize they needed.
Just as his recent releases show his growth as an artist and musician, building on the delicate atmospheric DNA of his earlier tracks and expanding into a more textured soundscape, this last show is evidence of his growth as a performer. He builds on the blueprints of his DJ’ing and instrumental skills and translates them into a hell of a good time on stage.