“Encore! Encore! Encore!” the audience at Harlows chanted at the Raul Midon concert. Those who missed the Saturday evening performance will have to catch him on YouTube or when he comes to Sacramento again.
Midon is the consummate performer, passionate about his craft. His voice and guitar are his only instruments. He personalized his concert by talking about the inspiration and experience behind each song with candor and humor. It felt as if members of the audience had a personal relationship with him.
“Music is a form of communication. It goes deeper and communicates with the conscious and subconscious,” he said last week in an interview with The Sacramento Press. “People are gonna perceive things that are played in minor as more contemplative than when things are played in major.”
Midon demonstrated the method at Harlows, opening with the staccato, uptempo rhythm of “Silly Man” from his new album, “Synthesis.” The song was marked by sharp changes in pitch and key and scatting — a trademark signature of jazz artists.
Midon alternated between soft and loud, including in an incredible guitar solo, and then sped up the tempo, fingers flying. He slapped his guitar, creating an abrupt beat. This musician needs no drummer, trumpet player or back-up musicians. He is a one-man band.
“Don’t Take It That Way” was a crowd favorite. Heads nodded, bodies swayed and shouts of pure enjoyment pierced the air.
“Suddenly,” a song from Midon’s “State Of Mind” album, slowed things down with a sentimental melody and introspective lyrics.
He sang the first part of “Sunshine I Can Fly” in Spanish. The audience clapped to the pulsating rhythm as Midon sang, his hands beating his guitar. Unexpectedly, Midon began making his signature trumpet sound, which is similar to beat-boxing in hip-hop music. He deviated from the song, improvising musical scales as the guitar accompanied his mock trumpet vocals. A man yelled from the crowd, “… and it doesn’t get any better than that!”
But it did, with “Invisible Chains.” The love song provided a “rock-steady-reggae” groove in which he soulfully crooned, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” That phrase turned into a mantra as he sang the words “everybody deserves a second chance.”
The crowd appeared transfixed by his guitar in “Bonnie’s Song" and then heard the beautiful instrumental “World Within a World.”
“I’m a optimistic guy … there’s all kinds of feelings. It’s important to write edgier songs with dimension,” he said last week. “The previous Stevie Wonder comparisons are due to the gospel, black-soul sound. But people compare me to him because we’re both blind; frankly, we’re very different. We can share different sentiments, but we share edgy songs.”
Midon performed “About You,” considered one of his edgier tracks. Its explicit lyrics tell of betrayal, yet anger never sounded so sweet.
“The Next Generation” has a social and political message. Before singing it, Midon said, “After the elections … it was a little too happy, I was buoyed by all of that.”
“Waited All My Life," written when he and his wife were dating, seemed to touch the audience. “This is a straight-up love song,” he said. “I had to find a way to up my game to move things along in the relationship.” It was a beautiful tribute, honest and disarming.
Midon attributed the inspiration behind "Sitting in the Middle" to Donnie Hathaway, a musician to whom critics have compared him.
The best part of the performance was Midon’s interaction with the audience during his final song. He did call and response on “State of Mind,” the title track on his previous album. Midon displayed an awesome vocal range, singing a note that the audience would then repeat. He strummed his guitar a mile a minute as the crowd screamed and applauded.
For an encore, he sang “Mystery Girl.”
“He’s a great musician and composer,” said Nevada City resident Philippe Olivera, who’s a native of Brazil.
The concert attracted newcomers to Midon’s music as well as devoted fans.
“I came here originally to support the band playing after Midon, and instead, I found a sound I’m interested in listening more to,” said Sacramentan Trish Hunt.
“I thought he was dynamic,” Steve Cooper said of the performance. “I was blown away by the sounds he brings out of that guitar. He doesn’t need a band. He’s better live than on his recordings in the studio … he was well worth the price of admission.”
“I found him through the Web and have been following him ever since. He’s amazing. The experience was intense,” said concertgoer Shawn Monsen. “It was his first album that really hooked me.”
For an artist’s music to stand alone, without back-up singers or a band, speaks volumes. Midon carries the stage, no assistance required. He said he prefers performing solo.
“I will continue to do so. That’s not to say I won’t go out with a band. But I love this format,” he said. “I found a voice that’s unique. It’s a voice on guitar and hopefully people will know it’s me.”