IRVINE — Seal wore black and barely cracked a smile in his 90 minutes on stage Monday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, but he left a roaring crowd clearly uplifted. The British vocalist and songwriter didn't need to make any happy talk to keep his audience engaged on the soulful grooves of his music, and his open-hearted songs of love, loss and redemption communicated powerfully enough.
Seal was a commanding presence from the moment his four-man band powered into the opening crescendo of "I'm Alive." Seal doesn't waste any gestures as he performs, and maintains a rather stoic countenance even as he belts out tunes full of heated emotion, such as "Dreaming in Metaphor" and "Don't Cry," both from last year's eponymous sophomore album.
But all that emotion is made clear in Seal's remarkable voice--a husky, expressive tenor that can work warm, mellow melodies in the manner of a soul giant like Sam Cooke, but can also exhibit some chilling power when the music gets tougher. The curious tension between Seal's cool composure and the intensity of his vocals actually make him more interesting to watch than many more theatrical performers.
While Seal's music often sketched out an inner life of mystery and melancholy, opener Des'ree simply beamed forth warm goodwill. She's a gifted vocalist and a coolly graceful performer, and her music's soft, jazzy grooves are a perfect support for her enticing melodies and passionate lyrics, which often ache for either romantic or spiritual fulfillment.
\o7 * Seal and Des'ree perform Thursday and Friday at the Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., 7:30 p.m. $17.50-$42.50. (213) 480-3232. \f7