The lights are dimmed and excitement hangs heavy in the air as people shift their feet restlessly. The first chords start playing, and it’s a tense energy as we wait for the main headliner to make his appearance. Suddenly the lights come alive and Raury hops onto the stage. His presence is electric and mesmerizing—it really is hard not to keep your eyes glued to him as he comes to the front of the stage, a bundle of bouncing energy and graceful jerky dancing. He smiles and winks playfully at someone in the crowd, then returns back to the microphone and finally begins to sing.
At the young age of nineteen and from Atlanta, Raury is still a fresh face in the music scene. With an eclectic indie music style combining hip hop, soul and folk, Raury’s got the type of music that speaks in a way that makes you want to stop and listen. His album “All We Need” was released barely a month ago, and its style can best be described as hopeful in the many stories and issues it addresses. It’s a youthful album, and Raury performed with the same vigor and strongly-evoked sentiment that I could hear through all his songs.
The crowd and I were definitely not let down; Raury is a performer through and through. He enticed the crowd with the conviction he put into his performance on stage Thursday night at the Middle East Restaurant and Bar. His performance was charged, charismatic and kept the audience on its feet, even during slower songs like “Cigarette Song.”
There was not one moment through the night when Raury seemed to just stand still. Middle East is a small venue, and this worked in Raury’s favor. With his energy emanating outwards from his slight frame, putting his whole being into his words, the audience listened and moved with him, the intimacy of his songs not lost as it flowed outwards. Even as Raury paused in between songs to talk to the crowd, you could still feel that energy mingling with the hazy air and the excitement of the moment. All of Raury’s songs stayed close to their original recordings; there didn’t seem to be much variation from how they sounded on the album. However, his performance helped to enhance these songs, as it showcased the raw version of his vocals— and the audience hung on to his every word.
The setup of the stage was simple: he was flanked on both sides by his two guitarists, and the drummer was lightly raised up in the back. Raury’s band was definitely not there to distract people from the main attraction. Rather, it was surprising to me that they weren’t as energetic as Raury himself seemed to be. However, Raury’s persona made up for this and perhaps this was the entire point: to not detract the audience from his presence anyways.
In contrast to the first two supporting acts, a clutter of guitars, drum sets and electronic equipment sprawled over the stage the clean nature of the set up for Raury only helped focus the crowd’s attention. The only special effects were the four large- paneled strobe lights which seem to change color depending on the mood of each song. I don’t know whether or not this was coincidental, but it was hard not to feel that something was amok when Raury began performing “Devil’s Whisper” under the harsh glow of the red lights.
Transitions between songs were interspersed with moments in which Raury would stop and speak to the crowd. When Raury performs, he gets really into character, twisting his face and moving his hands expressively. He speaks steadily and with an impassioned seriousness about his life and experiences as reflected in his songs. In addition, many of his comments through the night such as “They want you to think that music is just for entertainment… but no! It’s not!” only got the crowd more riled up while establishing this young artist as a voice worthy to be heard.
Raury ended on a resoundingly strong note with “God’s Whisper.” Mid song, he began dousing the crowd with some water bottles and then promptly launched himself into the crowd as well, crowd surfing for several seconds before being carried back onto the stage.
As a performer, Raury has had quite some time to polish and rehearse his performances, making appearances this summer at Lollapalooza and several other music festivals. Even so, his performance last night remained untainted and fiercely honest. Wherever this young artist goes next, attendees of his Crystal Express tour will undoubtedly be remembering him for a very long time, and will most likely pass the word along about him in the process.