“Nice place you got here,” Seal said, glancing around the grandeur of The Met Philly and remarking about the “sexy blue-collar people” of Philly that filled it up Thursday night. “Wait, let’s not gloss over that. Is blue collar sexy?” Loud cheers, on cue. “Well, I’m in good company then.”
He could bring the heartrending drama on songs like the classic opener “Crazy” and his signature set-closer “Kiss From A Rose.” But he could also be warm, cheeky, and hilarious. This was the entertaining, engaging, and multifaceted persona that the celebrated British singer presented on his 30th anniversary run — which, due to COVID delays, fell more between the thirtieth anniversary of his 1991 self-titled debut, and that of its 1994 followup. As such, a healthy offering from both albums filled the 90-minute setlist, enthralling the late-week crowd with kinetic rhythms, dynamic arrangements, and Seal’s singular soaring voice.
It wasn’t the albums in order, though. Clever setlist juxtapositions — the slick slide into “The Beginning” in such a way that it centered its ravey roots, or the hard-hitting pulse of “Future Love Paradise” mixing with the deep funk of “Violet” — kept the show unpredictable and exciting, even if we did know essentially what songs were going to get played. It also underscored the unique figure Seal cut in the 90s, and still today. He doesn’t conform to narrow ideas of what’s expected from entertainers: he’s not just a sublime R&B vocalist, or just a stylish techno-adjacent star, he’s a multitude of identities wrapped in one, from alt-rock psychedelia to pure pop.
A tight and tremendous backing was provided by his band — Latanya Hall and Everett Bradley on vocals and percussion, Earl Harvin on drums, Jamie Muhoberac on keys, Mat Dauzat on guitar, and a person Seal described as “my mentor, producer, and dear friend of 33 years,” Trevor Horn on bass. This was all the more impressive considering they’d pulled double duty performing an opening set as The Buggles under the leadership of Horn. It was a tidy tour of highlights from The Age Of Plastic — yes, “Video Killed The Radio Star” made an appearance, as did its lesser-known cousin “Elstree” — as well as the Adventures In Modern Recording nugget “I Am A Camera” and covers of two songs Horn produced: “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” by Yes.
The vibrant night’s biggest moments of impact came during two songs where Seal broke the proverbial fourth wall and entered the crowd. First, during an emotional performance of “Prayer For The Dying” dedicated to the late mother of a fan he’d met earlier in the day, Seal walked along the isle holding hands, embracing fans, singing directly into their eyes while sharing messages of love and transcendence, how beloved spirits live on even when bodies die. The anti-racist dancefloor banger “Killer,” later in the night, saw Seal re-enter the audience, climb on seat backs supported by the outstretched hands of audience members, whipping the room into a frenzy.
These were breathtaking highs, and ones that Seal said helps in his own grapplings with insecurity. “I’m like you,” he said, returning to the stage. “I have my doubts. But every time we get to do something like this, its confirmation for me that love always wins.” He reiterated this during the encore, before closing with “Love’s Divine” — “lean in with love,” he told the crowd, and this euphoric feeling can remain.