Few artists are able to age gracefully like a fine wine. Even fewer are able to do so in a way that continues to leave their audiences wobbly and intoxicated as the decades wear on. As a sold out crowd of Angelenos at the Hollywood Bowl sipped pricey cocktails and smuggled libations at sunset, there was no doubt that everyone with a glass in their hand came to get drunk on the age-proof sexiness of Seal. At a time in his career where singing jazz standards is more-or-less the standard, the 55 year-old pop icon still has a way of bending cover songs to his will as a shapeshifter of soul. It’s a skill he’s perfected since the world got its first taste of his buttery rasp back in the ‘90s (does anybody remember Seal with dreads? Seriously, its worth a Google search ).
But Seal’s trip LA culture’s holiest of holies to deliver a 75-minute set backed by members of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was more than just a chance for him to reheat the hype behind last years Standards album and his catalog of original hits. Consudering the star’s love-hate relationship with Hollywood (see his #MeToo Twitter barbs against Oprah for a taste of his delectable savagery) it was a chance to remind LA fans that at the end of the day, it’s all love.
As fans piled into the bowl for the main event, show opener Corinne Bailey Rae took the stage. With a shoulder length mane of curly hair, her mixture of sweet and triumphant soul mixed with her zen-like charisma wafted over the Bowl crowd during her short, seven-song set. Her show kicked off with “Been to the Moon” from 2016’s The Heart Speaks in Whispers. Strumming her acoustic guitar, the soft songs thrived on the added boost of a live four-piece band.
Eternally inspired by Bob Marley (who isn’t?), Bailey Rae threw out a breezy cover of “Is This Love” which got early birds in the crowd out of their chairs swaying to the groove. It bled into a fluttering salvo of her 2006 debut album hits “Put Your Records On” and “Just Like a Star” before ending triumphantly with “The Skies Will Break” a newer tune from Hearts, which she dedicated to anyone going through a tough time. Though brief, her set seemed like an easy antidote to melancholy–that and the fact that it’s literally impossible to be bummed about watching Seal at the Bowl.
Wasting little time after Bailey Rae’s set ended, the ‘90s God of Adult Contemporary love jams made his entrance sporting a black peacoat and red shoes to the tune of an eight-piece orchestra led by maestro Thomas Wilkins. He entered with “Luck Be a Lady” that was obviously took more cues Frank Sinatra than Frank Loesser, the song’s originator. But even when singing someone else’s songs, Seal’s panty-scorching soul was not lost on the crowd who shouted indecent proposals to the singer who by now, definitely has enough children by now.
But it’s clear that middle age and fatherhood have done little to curb the sleekness of Seal. He strutted down the catwalk that jutted out from the stage, allowing him to get close enough to his front row fans to serenade them while they carved their steaks.
As with most of his shows since the Standards album, the night’s format hued toward his classic covers of songs like “I Put a Spell On You” (Screamin Jay Hawkins), “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong), and “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” (Irma Thomas). Throwing out the Marion Montgomery classic “That’s Life” got the older crowd dancing, singing and throwing their hands toward the night sky to the immortal words of the chours:
“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race!”
It was like watching the crowd kick off their shoes as the buzz from Seal’s aura finally set in…a perfect time to hit us with some original jams. Before he did, he paid homage to another classy songwriter in the house, Joni Mitchell who he noted was sitting in the crowd before giving us a bit of Big Yellow Taxi. Honestly, is there a hit song on the planet that Seal hasn’t covered?
Donning his acoustic guitar, he quickly segued into “Kiss From a Rose” still the only tolerable part of Batman Forever. Giving the song it’s proper due, the audience got their collective release to the tune of “Ba-da-da-da-da-da-by-ya-ya.”
Sidenote: I should mention this was the song that came on in the karaoke bar where I proposed to my wife five years ago (to the day!)–can’t say the dude never gave me anything, especially the chance to look effortlessly smooth.
Though he easily wiped out a third of his audience who were no doubt incinerated by a burst of eargasmic joy, the singer knew he had to press on to meet the show’s strict curfew.
Taking a timewarp back to his early career, he shimmied and gyrated through the 1990 break out hit “Killer,” follwed by a sonorous cry to the heavens during “Prayer For the Dying”. His rendition of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” compelled most of the audience to get off their butts and dance for the duration of the show.
He also carved time out of his set during another cover, Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”, to bring out up-and-coming crooner Gallant. Its not the first time they’ve shared the stage together. Back in 2016, Gallant brought his soulful mentor to the stage with him during Coachella. Though most of the old folks in the crowd had no idea who he was, Seal’s nod to millennial relevance didn’t go unnoticed.
However, the 26 year-old crooner wasn’t the youngest guest Seal brought out. As part of his encore–which he didn’t bother to draw out because of the Bowl’s curfew–he introduced the crowd to his eight year-old daughter Lou who somehow mustered the courage to play the opening riff of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” on piano in front of nearly 18,000 people while her dad sang behind her and gently patted her on the shoulder to signal the chord changes.
The parade of covers took one more lap with a nod to pop music’s high priest David Bowie during “Rebel Rebel” which perfectly fit the vibe of an LA show where social decorum of the Hollywood Bowl show started to break down as the boldest among us start dancing in the isles.
That of course led to the full on insanity of “Crazy” turning the bowl into a decadent dance party, the kind that leaves you drunk on ‘90s nostalgia and looking hopelessly for your keys or a smartphone to grab a Lyft that can transport you back to ordinary life. Though unlike a normal wine drenched hangover, remnants of a night with Seal will linger forever.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.