Allen Stone started his night in front of a Turner Hall audience nearly an hour before his band took the stage, dancing at a distance with a young girl as she gleefully watched him peer over the edge of the balcony.
Clad in his trademark hat and glasses, the Seattle native would go on to match his youthful fan's exuberance and energy throughout his marathon two-hour set and encore Wednesday night, establishing a standard that few of his contemporaries could hope to match.
Stone's band played him out to a delightful rendition of James Brown's "Sex Machine," leading right into their own "What I've Seen." Stone commands the stage with the vigor and conviction of a tent revivalist, not surprising given that he was raised the son of a preacher.
Combining that near-religious fervor with the strut of an industry veteran thrice his age, Stone thoroughly rocked a game crowd, pausing only to soak in an extended ovation on a mention that he was making his first headlining appearance in the Cream City.
A pair of slower numbers, "Killing Time" and "The Bed I Made," allowed Stone the opportunity to show off his softer side. Sitting down with acoustic guitar in hand, he led a willing assembly along with a duo of tracks that were reminiscent of Amos Lee cut with the very best parts of John Mayer's early work.
Allen Stone exudes soul, and furthermore radiates soulfulness. Renditions of Bob Marley's "Is This Love" and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good" were peppered into the show, the former showcasing Stone's world-class falsetto and finishing with a flourish that would make Christina Aguilera jealous. Even when he's not jumping octaves, Stone's voice is like hot buttered rum: warm, inviting and more than a little intoxicating. Using it to the best of his ample abilities, he took those familiar tracks and left his own mark on them, as if their lyrics had flowed from his own veins.
His aforementioned church upbringing was put on display during a brief sermon that served as an intermission of sorts. Discussing how often we all miss the chance for genuine personal contact in favor of social media, Stone implored his congregation to put their phones down and throw themselves into the night's entertainment.
"Our greatest gift as human beings, besides music, is the opportunity to work together to create the energy that we call love," Stone said before diving into an inspired performance of "Contact High."
After an impromptu dance-off between two halves of the audience and a head-fake of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Stone finished his main set with the aptly named "Satisfaction." A brief moment off stage was all the band would need before returning to cap the night with a two-song encore that featured opening act Tingsek joining Stone for a duet of "Six Years." Stone then finished the night off properly with the beautiful tones of "Unaware," arguably the strongest track on his eponymous 2012 release.
Leading into Stone's show was cute-as-a-button Belgian songstress Selah Sue, a burgeoning star in Europe who is just now making inroads stateside. While her popular single "Raggamuffin" was strong, it was a cover of The Zutons' "Valerie" that really won the growing mob over. Even more impressive was her final offering, the staggeringly beautiful "Break."
With a stirring voice that seemed equal parts Nelly Furtado, Holly Conlan and Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir of Of Monsters And Men fame, Selah Sue captivated Turner Hall with a virtuoso performance. It's hard to imagine her not headlining when she returns to town.
Opening the evening was an engaging presentation from Sweden's Magnus Tingsek, who records and performs under his surname only. Sounding like Gavin DeGraw with a healthy infusion of blues, Tingsek showed true professionalism while weathering myriad technical difficulties.
At one point, something went horribly awry with Tingsek's keyboard. Undaunted, the Swede pushed forward as the song became de facto a cappella. This grace served only to win him points with a forgiving audience, one that became increasingly connected to him as he played guitar, keyboard and looped his own percussion. An impressive Milwaukee debut, to be sure.
In his outstanding, uplifting "Say So," Stone proclaims, "Anything that you need, guaranteed, I will give it to you. Whatever the cost, everything that I've got I will give it to you."
He sure wasn't kidding.