Like the recently renovated 1960s modernist concert hall that provides the setting for tonight’s show, gospel soul trio Gabriels have classic roots galvanised by top-end contemporary production. Tonight is the opening date on a short – and strictly sold out – UK tour promoting Angels and Queens Part One, the excellent debut album likely to score highly on end-of-year lists this winter.
Jacob Lusk’s power as a vocalist, and his hard-utilised charisma, is immense. Taking to the stage in long, black gown and hat redolent of an oversized velvet frisbee, Lusk can trade nuanced sprechgesang for moments of wall-rattling ballast – such as in the elegant baroque pop of Bloodline – within 10 seconds. Such blockbuster moments are received with equal applause. Where the band’s references to 1940s jazz, Motown and gospel could feel retro, tonight’s set emphasises just as much the brooding, cinematic atmospheres that add depth to their sound. It’s not unlike Sault’s smart, contemporary cut-up of Black creativity across different decades. Lusk – raised in the Apostolic church, and the only Black finalist on the 2011 series of American Idol – has enough sheer skill as a performer to keep downtempo moments captivating, outstretching his arm and singing into his hand as though in a performance of Hamlet. Emphasising Lusk’s gospel roots, he is augmented by three powerful backing singers.
“It’s been a crazy few years,” explains Lusk, “a lot of us have lost people.” Introducing the piano ballad If You Only Knew, he talks of that song being inspired by the death of his godsister, and lists family members of the group who have died in the last two years. “Losing a person that you love can sometimes be the hardest thing you do,” he concludes, “but sometimes losing that person is freedom for that person.” While it’s right for pop to deal with commemoration in a time defined by private loss, the moment aims for broad brush relatability but lands as perhaps unearned sentimentality. No matter, that track’s slow-burn euphoria is one of tonight’s clear highlights.
On closer Love and Hate in a Different Time – praised by Elton John as “one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years” – Lusk works every moment of the track’s stately northern soul, shimmying across the stage, ducking low, and stomping as the song reaches its orgiastic hallelujah climax. It’s a moment of big release in a set not afraid to paint in moodier, more complex colours.
• Gabriels play Here at Outernet, London, 25 and 26 October.