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Music Review O'Neal's R'n'B sounds as sweet as ever

Alexander O’Neal
Boisdale of Canary Wharf, London/Touring

ALEXANDER O’NEAL clearly subscribes to the showbiz motto “always leave them wanting more,” for this was a short and sweet set of less than a dozen numbers.

Yet it was difficult to feel shortchanged as the lights went up. We heard all his best stuff on the night and, in any case, the abbreviated cabaret approach seemed to suit Boisdale’s upmarket set-up, where diners push back their chairs to take in some post-prandial entertainment.

There’s also a suspicion that O’Neal, who has had some well-publicised health issues, is sensibly managing the pace on what for a 64-year-old is a substantial 60-date tour across Britain that will still be going on in February. After three numbers he retreated to his stool to sing Sunshine, followed by his best offering of the evening, If You Were Here Tonight.

The vibe was building nicely at that point, so it was a shame he chose that moment to leave the stage for a break to towel-off, leaving his band to fill in with a rendition of Earth Wind & Fire’s September.

Thankfully, it was just a one-song interlude and when O’Neal came back the stool had disappeared. Kicking off with Never Knew Love Like This and Saturday Love, he gradually moved through the gears to the climaxes of Criticize and Fake, by which time the diners had abandoned their desserts and were cavorting in the spaces among the tables.

Raising the roof in this relatively small venue might be considered a modest triumph for someone who once set a record by playing six consecutive nights at London’s Wembley Arena. But times move on and it was a triumph still.

O’Neal remains at ease on stage and there was never a hint of a false step all night. Although some of the 1980s synthesizer phrasing sounds a bit dated, the material stands the test of time and his grainy voice is as sweet to listen to as ever.

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