The Ark, home to nationally acclaimed folk and acoustic music, harbored an unusual guest on Tuesday, Jan. 14: G. Love and Special Sauce, an old school R&B group known for their laid-back and tastefully sloppy tunes. Instead of mandolins or acoustic guitars, the stage was filled with four different electric guitars, drums, electric basses, a tiny horn (I swear) and a slick harmonica. I felt like a bit of an interloper as I settled in amid a crowd that seemed to be entirely composed of people ten to fifteen years older than me.
The opener for G. Love — Shamarr Allen and the UnderDawgs — was insanely delightful. Allen blew onto the stage with vivacity, charm and openness. He and his band (featuring Allen on trumpet and vocals, Floyd Gray on the drums, Dan Cardillo on the guitar and Marius Tilton on the bass) exuded a casual, personable feel that made the listener feel like they were somewhere as intimate as a house concert. Allen played with good humor; at one point, he even asked for the house lights to come up so that he could see the audience dancing and dance with them.
While Allen’s vocals worked well in service of his conversational and humorous lyrics, the highlight of the night was his horn playing. His horn solos ranged from the thundering largeness of an elephant’s cry to the intricate fluidity of the path of a bumblebee. It felt like horn playing was Allen’s way of rising above the restrictions of the human voice and expressing the essence of each song. After Allen’s set, the room was brimming with energy that could only be the result of his classic New Orleans hip-hop and youthful innovation.
I was not prepared for what would happen when G. Love and his Special Sauce crew (featuring Garrett “G. Love” Dutton on main vocals, guitar and harmonica, James “Jimi Jazz” Prescott on the bass and Jeffrey “Houseman” Clemens on the drums) rolled onstage in three different iterations of pink, black and white blazers.
G. Love walked onto the stage with the subdued confidence of a seasoned performer. In contrast to Shamarr Allen’s energetic entrance and introduction, G. Love and Special Sauce slid into their first number as smoothly as one slips their hand into a glove. This cool entrance was met with an immediate standing ovation from the audience, and most of us didn’t sit down after this initial greeting. G. Love’s confident, energetic lyrics popped off the stage and into the ears of willing listeners, particularly “Shake Your Hair” from his new album. His rapport with the audience was that of a tired but giving star. He swayed over the audience, shaking the hands of as many people as he could and trying to give everyone a bit of his genuine gratitude. His voice seemed tired and a bit strained (as this was the middle of his tour), and because much of G. Love’s musicality rests in his snappy lyrics, my inability to hear them clearly muddled the quality of the performance. His energy was a bit low, but the audience never faltered in their support of him.
The most extraordinary part of the concert, however, came when G. Love and Shamarr Allen came together for a rendition of Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” and a collaborative version of Allen’s “Weekend Dance.” Allen’s newcomer energy mixed with G. Love’s complete ease blended with the audience’s support to create something incredible: a living time capsule. I looked onstage and saw two men truly in awe of the other’s musical talent — respect from Allen and excitement from G. Love. The two balanced each other out splendidly, portraying a successful mentorship that went beyond their friendship.
When looking around during this finale, I was filled with a sense of warmth and ease. An audience divided by generational differences was dancing ridiculously and blended seamlessly into one unified group of people. G. Love beamed onstage and I got the sense of him passing the baton of a genre he loves so dearly to Allen. As this thought danced into my head, I remembered something Allen said as he closed out his set:
“A lot of people ask me what genre my music is. Is it funk, R&B, soul or jazz? There’s so much in there. Well, I like to call it ‘bridge music’ because it bridges all kinds of music together. It bridges people together.”