Sam Huber And The True Groove All-Stars’ Intimate Command Performance At The Consul General’s Residency, Thursday, November 8th, 2018, Reviewed
You’d be excused for assuming that the soul singer Sam Huber was a New York phenomena, for one thing he records for the best indie label in the city, for another, when Sam sings his voice is accent less, and for a third, he sings black music. But you would be wrong, Huber hails from Finland, and he has just returned from, in the Finnish Embassy’s words, the “Triumphant “Top Of The World” Tour” and last night performed an invite only command performance for the New York Consulate General’s Manu Virtamo and Mrs. Liisa Virtamo at the Consulate General’s residence on 5th Avenue.
Finland is one of those countries where if you don’t have a real reason to know it, it blurs into Scandinavia, and whereas Sweden has Robyn, and Denmark have blonde girls, what does Finland have? Quite a lot, actually. One of the great democracies, it has been inhabited since 9000 BC, and has withstood attempts to conquer it, most recently by their left flank, Russia, who tried and failed to take it over after WWII. Yes, Finland weren’t commies, indeed by any matrix imaginable they are a prosperous, decent society and culture, seeped in classical music and… heavy metal.
I discovered all of this before arriving at Finland’s Consul General abode, home since 1968, with a beautiful view, and a prosperous but not garish, decor. Guests were met at the door by by Manu and Liisa, Manu in a skin tight tee shirt and heavy metal veneer odd for a political figure (and he admitted to being rarely seen out of a jacket and tie) but more in keeping with the hot shot music vibe, Ambassador Virtamo is a music guy, and a collector of bootlegs from the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. While the Ambassador didn’t manage to see Hendrix in concert the one time Jimi performed in Helsinki, he did see prime Cream in 1967. The Consul General took his new position in September 2016 after three years in Tokyo, he has also been posted in Stockholm, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles – in LA he also got to meet Jimmy Page at the Grammys so you gotta think, right? The current position is pretty excellent, Virtamo’s jurisdiction is huge, it covers 35 Eastern and Mid U.S. States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I wrote last week how the only politician I’ve met and liked is Ed Koch (and I’ve met Trump, Giuliani, and Cuomo among others), well now there is another one.
The Ambassador and his wife are charming, and the evening was intimate and stress free (word to the salmon, one of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted), the other guests were friendly and, is it me or are all Finnish people gorgeous? One young woman dressed in a gender neutral suit had the untouchable aura of a Greta Garbo (not entirely a leap, Garbo was discovered by a Finnish man) and another woman, with a short pixie blonde hair style, reminded me of a young Laura Marling. The intern I spoke with had impeccable English, and was attractive enough to make you wonder if he was being vetted for the next Timothée Chalamet movie.
Sam certainly is a good looking presence, as is Tomas , and the All-Stars. Before the command performance I wondered how the raucous, hard, guileful Huber and band were going to conduct themselves in such a restrictive environment, it reminded me of going to see Titus Andronicus at the Whitney in 2009, where security kept on threatening to stop the show. And really, what is a Sam Huber show without buckets of sweat, right? Well, we missed the sweat but what we gained during the six song set was the quiet to really listen to not just Sam’s voice, revealing a soft undertow just below the swoop, the opposite of what you usually expect from a singer, but also Tomas harmonizing and even taking the high parts on “Plastic Love,” it substitutes hard dance with sweet pop thrills. I know what you’re gonna say: oh yeah, how about “Little By Little”? Here’s my answer, one) he didn’t sing it and 2) we’re discussing live and not recorded and 3) “Little By Little” is an anomaly, it is a variant on the American songbook and not a soul song, the name that comes to mind isn’t Mayfield but Sinatra.
The set opened with the first two songs off the sophomore album, Top Of The World, reversed, both of them becoming vocal instead of rhythmic workouts, the All-Stars are held in check, Tomas was actually playing an acoustic guitar for the entire set as was James Dellatacoma, and Arturo, who has been out of town the last coupla times I saw the All-Stars, only really gets to show off on his pedal steel guitar during “People Pushing People”. But the band know quiet, their Black Magnolia gig at La Mama was a picture of restraint. After two songs from the last album, we got two covers. Sam sang Talking Heads “Heaven” on Confused, and somebody should get it to David Byrne, pronto. Sam acted out the song through expansive hand movements, the song is all about constriction but also expansion, it is about, well, boredom, and Sam is so clear eyed here, he personifies the restrictions of the afterlife just about any way that you care to cut it up. “Tea In The Sahara” is a Police song suggested by Marla Mase, who looked great by the way. By the end, Sam was ready to let loose and on the set closer, the Bowieesque “Bright Life” he reversed the loud-soft and took the Eno in Berlin with synths “Bright Life” off the first album and turned it into a life affirming shout out to the people of his country, a country I for one would be happy to come from.
Sam and the All-Stars did well by Finland, who deserved to have well done by them.