There’s nothing wrong with the fitted suits and linen pants sets that have long been standard dress for male soul singers, but there’s nothing wrong with refusing to adopt that uniform, either. Allen Stone, a 23-year-old artist from Washington state, sounds like an old-school soul singer but dresses like . . . a 23-year-old from Washington state.
Stone played a sold-out show at the Red Palace on Monday night — his first performance in the District — wearing his trademark Coke-bottle nerd glasses, a grandpa cardigan and a Sonics jersey. During a high-powered set, Stone gave an explanation, of sorts, for his quirky look: “I’m sick and tired of soul music lookin’ so crisp and clean and nice and proper,” he said. “Because my soul is just a little bit greasy.”
Soul revivalism isn’t exactly uncharted territory, but Stone puts a new spin on it, and not just through his wardrobe choices. The singer (whose set was preceded by the amazing D.C.-based singer Amanda Badze) does it so well that it feels fresh. Covering Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” is almost always a hack karaoke move, but Stone and his band transformed it into a nearly unrecognizable funk scorcher with gospel undertones. Another interesting cover choice: “The Bare Necessities” from the Disney film “The Jungle Book.” “I hope you’re not too cool to sing along!” Stone said. Nobody was.
In addition to the covers, Stone — who sounds like a hybrid of Justin Timberlake, Anthony Hamilton and Sam Cooke — performed material from 2009’s “Last to Speak” and his new self-titled album, released in October. “Unaware,” a political rant disguised as a love song, sounded just as good in a concert space as it does in Stone’s mother’s living room, where he shot the video for the track. During “Contact High,” a song Stone wrote about our collective dependence on electronic devices, there wasn’t a single person in the crowd messing around on a cellphone, which could mean they were chagrined by the lyrics, but it’s more likely they were just focused on the good time at hand.
Godfrey is a freelance writer.