Eli "Paperboy" Reed / January 9, 2008 / New York (Mercury Lounge)
On this unseasonably warm Wednesday night in Manhattan's Lower East Side, it wasn't long before baby-faced Eli Reed was sweating hard as he wailed on one Stax-inspired rave-up after another -- and theOn this unseasonably warm Wednesday night in Manhattan's Lower East Side, it wasn't long before baby-faced Eli Reed was sweating hard as he wailed on one Stax-inspired rave-up after another -- and the audience was fully swept up in the soul wayback machine he and his band constructed.
It was all too easy to forget this was 2008, and from the 24-year-old Bostonian's pinkie ring and chisel-toed Beatle boots to the horn section and Wurlitzer in his band the True Loves, stepping back into 1963 seemed to be the unrevolutionary -- but enjoyable -- point. This was not meant to be a show: it was meant to be a performance.
After a horn player gave Reed an amusing James Brown-like introduction, the Brylcreemed singer joined the True Loves on the tiny, crowded stage and proceeded to preview his forthcoming sophomore record, "Roll With You" (Q Division, due in April), nearly in its entirety. Following opener "Stake Your Claim" (which also opens the album), the ensemble hit everything from the "I Can't Stop Loving You" stylings of ballad "It's Easier" to the juke-ready jump of "The Satisfier," complete with backup vocals by the Sweet Divines, a trio of heavily eye-linered singers in matching A-line dresses and go-go boots. By the time the revue rolled into "(Am I Just) Fooling Myself," Reed was on his knees in water from a bottle he had kicked over, electrocution hazard be damned.
The 45-minute set might have felt like play-acting if not for the conviction with which Reed performed. A college-aged kid in a suit leading a 7-piece band through 60's-tinged soul cuts for a room of Manhattan hipsters could have easily been a disguise for nudge-wink irony. But one look at Reed wailing his guts out and it was clear he meant every note.