Saturday, Nov. 6 Sometimes artists arrive surrounded by hype and fail to deliver. Sometimes they're OK but disappointing. Very rarely, an artist will come to Indy with several U-Hauls of hype and put it all out there for everyone to see.
That's what Van Hunt did at Birdy's on Saturday night. Commanding the stage like a drill sergeant, Hunt tried to prove he is capable of evoking the same kinds of emotional responses as his heroes, Prince and Sly Stone, did in their prime.
Not one unplanned note was played by his backing band, leaving Hunt good opportunity to improvise with his amazing falsetto, wail on guitar, sing snippets of other songs or just make the ladies swoon.
The majority of tunes came from his self-titled debut album, but it was obvious that Hunt has played these songs enough and is dying to break out new material. There was a brutal efficiency to the way songs such as the lovely "Dust" were performed. There was competence and passion but also a been-there, done-that feeling.
When he let loose, such as on the Prince-penned "Get It Up," Hunt was amazing. He's compared to Prince and Sly not just because he plays soul music but because he's such a hard worker. Like the Purple One, Hunt isn't afraid to stretch a song out to 15 minutes if the groove is right, or cut it off after two if it ain't working.
Prince can also sing a slow love ballad and follow it up with a bed-shaking booty song. So can Hunt. James Brown could stop his band on a dime, wait 17 seconds and then restart the music funkier than ever. So can Hunt.
In the final analysis, Hunt's music has a retro feel not only because of his material but because, like James, Prince and Sly, Hunt really seems to care about his audience the way those giants did. When Hunt played the JB's song "Doing It To Death" as an encore, it was obvious that he really, seriously wanted everybody to have a funky good time. He was serious about wanting to take the crowd higher. He demanded respect and worked long and hard to earn it.
In a few years, he'll be filling basketball arenas and appearing on Extra with supermodels in tow. Those who were lucky enough to witness his two Indianapolis club shows this year will never forget them.