Lenny Kravitz has always seemed slightly out of sync with contemporary music. In his 1990s heyday his take on soul, funk, rock and pop was deemed retro; in 2018 it seems in danger of bordering on antiquated.
Arriving to the strains of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Kravitz punctures the fluttering jazz notes with a loud crack of guitar as he winds up the riff to Fly Away. Slap bass wobbles as he stands still, leather jacket, sunglasses and flared jeans over snakeskin boots all pristinely in place, as if he had just been transported directly from the 1970s. The 60s and 70s are clearly Kravitz’s era of influence: when he was first signed to a record label the A&R introduced him as “Prince meets John Lennon”, which he seems to have run with as a personal mantra, even if the music often ends up a little closer to Bryan Adams.
For all the slightly tired rock-star posturing and outworn guitar solos, Kravitz knows how to catch a groove. During his trademark cover of The Guess Who’s American Woman, a trio of brass players emerge to stretch the song into an elongated, dub-tinged outro that teases in snippets of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up. The introduction of the trumpet and two saxophone players is a turning point for the show, thanks to their potent energy.
Kravitz has a lot of adoring fans who often scream “I love you”. In one instance, a pair of knickers is thrown on to the stage. The underwear is quickly scooped up and he introduces a new song, It’s Enough– a slinky, funky soul number that is vaguely political in its Curtis Mayfield-inspired skip, in which Kravitz tells us: “The system, you cannot trust / It’s enough, it’s enough / When the whole wide world is corrupt.” It’s musically familiar and lyrically a little jejune, but again, when Kravitz utilises the full strengths and timbre of his band, it expands into a soulful, smooth reverie. Another new track, Low, shows he’s still a little lost under Prince’s spell.
Kravitz further shows he’s somewhat powerless in relation to his influences with the very Blondie-style The Chamber, which even contains the lyrics “heart of glass”, and the disco-charged number struggles to shine. Yet the Bowie-esque Always on the Run turns into a solid rock stomper helped enormously by the bass playing of Gail Ann Dorsey, who played with Bowie for years.
During the encore, and after 10 minutes spent snaking through the crowd, he returns to the stage and thanks the audience for their love: “It’s like 1991 in here.” It seems that Kravitz has been questioning his own role and function leading up to his new album Raise Vibration, recently telling Rolling Stone: “After doing this for 30 years, I wasn’t feeling it. I’d never felt that confused about what to do. And it was kind of a scary place. What am I going to do, make a trap record?”
Kravitz returns for a second encore, pushing the show to over two hours. With a flying-V guitar strapped to his leather-jacketed form, he hurtles through Are You Gonna Go My Way. While his style may seem more out of fashion in 2018 then ever, whatever it is he’s doing he still seems to be hanging on in there.