Bilal brings it, but he always had. His Wednesday, July 6th set at Club Soda as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival didn’t have the Patti Labelle-esque rolling on the ground like his recent BET Awards tribute performance to Prince, but he didn’t need to, because Bilal always brings it.
Over the course of his two hour set, the vocalist dazzled, bringing his blend of jazz and R&B to the ever growing crowd. He ran through the gamut of his rather considerable body of work, even including an encore of his first big hit, “Soul Sister”. He played a set that was sure to please, with his sultrily chirpy voice and deft band steadily getting more and more into the set just as the crowd was. Initially, it took some doing for the head nods to get going, but once they kicked in at about the second hour, it was clear that everyone was syncing up.
By the time “Sometimes” came up, everything was possible. It lifts from seats, the crowd seemed larger. Keyboardist Jake Sherman suddenly breaks out a vocoder. “Levels” damn near turned into a sexy Baptist revival. “Back to Love” featured a scatting section that turned into a pantomimed fight with a concerned loved one that was entirely hilarious as it was aurally satisfying.
He played the hits. He has a lot of them, and this band can luxuriate in executing them and being the show stopping set of a festival with quite the reputation. That’s fine, though, because it was clear that Bilal would bring it. He always does.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.