Title: Seal: Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas
Author: David Quantick
Source: Q Magazine
Seal: you must play him at blackjack some time.
HARD ROCK HOTEL, LAS VEGAS
July 3 and 4,1995
The Hard Rock Hotel is a place you wouldn’t want to go when you’re dead. It’s a nightmare hybrid of hotel, casino (snap up those Red Hot Chili Pepper poker chips, $5 apiece), souvenir shop and Satanic tackathon. The Hard Rock boast that they play Jimi Hendrix in the elevators (they do, and Purple Haze sounds like muzak) and offer the world’s only Sex Pistols-themed slot machines (three CENSOREDs in a row for a jackpot). Just the sort of place you’d play on Independence Day if you were Henry “Seal” Samuel, really…
The tour is 37 dates in, the aged Kiss From A Rose is out as a single, and Seal is playing two nights in a small club in a casino in a hotel in the middle of a desert. Unfortunately, he is unwell.
Sitting in the bar, Seal explains that his throat feels like the muscles are being torn whenever he speaks. He doesn’t seem overly worried by this.
“‘I’m ill,’ he says, smoking a fag and drinking a non-alcoholic lager,” says Seal, smoking a fag and, indeed, drinking a non-alcoholic lager. Trevor Horn, ZTT boss and Seal’s producer, strolls in, red of tan and accompanied by Lol Creme of 10cc and video-directing fame. Trev was visiting Lol at his base in Los Angeles and the millionaire duo decided they would motor for five hours to see Seal play. He and Horn hit the tables.
Showtime comes in a hail of slightly over-the-top dry ice and blue lights, a production extravaganza more suited to larger venues. The Hard Rock only seats 1,500, but last night Seal played an 18,500 seater venue in Milwaukee. Seal is big in America; as the band arrive on stage and the opener, I’m Alive, begins to build, all the women at Q’s table go barmy. They shout, they whistle, they would wave football rattles if they had them. A middle-aged lady leans over and beams, “That’s my son, Chris. He played with George Clinton and Funkadelic.” “That’s it, Chris!” bellow Chris Bruce’s other female relatives. For tonight, Las Vegas has come to see Seal’s guitarist. (“Deservedly so,” says Seal later, gritting his magnanimous teeth. “He’s a great guitarist and a great writing partner.”)
The show is clearly hampered by the tearing-muscle-throat-illness thing. Seal is quiet between songs — indeed, the only difference between tonight and tomorrow’s shows will be that tomorrow Seal will shorten the set slightly but is more chatty. Tonight, though, Seal concentrates on blazing away at the crowd with his powerful smile. It works; never mind his babies, they want his descendants. During Deep Water, the entire crowd bursts into frenzied clapping that can only be described as “useless”. Bizarrely enough for the country that invented jazz, rock and soul, no-one in America can clap along in time to music.
Seal keeps smiling and throws in the odd “What’s up Vegas?” (rhythmless applause) and “How’s it going?” (undanceable whooping) but things are definitely muted here. This is a shame; the Seal live experience is a different thing to the clinical spacelab sound of his albums. A song like Don’t Cry benefits enormously from this new feel, but nothing — except maybe the almost Zep-esque thump of Bring It On — breaks out of the low-key atmosphere. Sometimes this is deliberate and it works really well. The new Blues In E and a pared-down Dreaming In Metaphors are thoughtful tunes, suited to a small room, even if it is a small room full of women going bonkers. And then Kiss From A Rose, a worthy follow-up to Killer and Crazy, a more foppish but still charismatic brother to its predecessors. “It’s amazing,” shrugs Seal modestly; “that song was actually written before the first album. It’s about eight years old. I wrote it as an experiment on a Portastudio. I did it about 15, 16 tracks a cappella because I couldn’t actually play any other instrument. Partly the reason Kiss From A Rose didn’t end up on the first record was because it didn’t fit in. I don’t think anyone would have understood it, because it’s like some black guy from Paddington singing almost like an old English baroque. I don’t think they would have got that along with Crazy…”
Ah, but now they do. Encouraged by the sight of the moderately well-heeled fuelled on cheap bourbon and clapping like three-handed nutters, the band push things along with an epic Bring It On and Seal goes so far as to wave his arms above his head in a determined manner. Killer (now with really horrible metal guitar introduction) and the eternal standard Crazy bring Vegas to a peak. The audience have determined that they are indeed never going to survive unless they get a little crazy, so they go spare with excitement. Then it’s over.
Seal and his band (“Go Chris go!”) return for two encores, a perfectly acceptable Prayer For The Dying which segues with professional ease into his other great song, Future Love Paradise, and they are away into the desert night.
“Vegas is an outrageous place isn’t it?” says the world’s tallest pop singer. “It’s a trip!”
Seal is relaxing with an alcohol-free lager, the devil, and reminiscing.
“This is my second time. I did the opening of the Hard Rock with Guns N’Roses minus Axl and Slash — if that’s still Guns N’Roses.”
No it isn’t. How was it?
“Loud. Extremely loud. I did Hey Joe and Manic Depression.”
It is a shame those songs aren’t part of the current set. Oh well. Perhaps Seal has given all his concert earnings back to the casinos.
”Absolutely!” he laughs, then remembers that he actually did. “No, I gambled yesterday. I lost about two, three hundred bucks, something like that.”
And the Seal man’s game of choice?
“Blackjack It’s the only one I understand.”
Seal is in a good mood. He bloody well should be; the last leg of his successful US tour is drawing to a close, he’s having a hit with a song a big movie (Batman Forever) is plugging for him, and oh how he loves his new band.
“The leg of this tour before Christmas I did with a different band,” he announces. “It was more work than fun. This is a better band for me, I can relax with them. We’re not Seal & The Whatevers. I don’t feel a pressure to perform with them.”
Unsurprisingly for someone whose first taste of fame pie was doing vocals on someone else’s dance track (Adamski’s original Killer), Seal has a studio background. He seems ashamed to admit he hasn’t done a lot of touring, adding enviously, “Most artists here have toured their arse off since they left school,” but he is a fan of the live thing. “Well, it varies from night to night. Some nights I just go on and play for me and the band. Then there are some nights when it’s a lot more — what’s the expression? — stoic.”
Life on stage for Seal is indeed a philosophical thing.
“Am I doing the right thing? That question will be answered when you walk on stage,” he says in mystic-oracle mode. “Do people get that song? I’d like to think they do. I don’t really get it myself sometimes. But they seem to like it over here. They seem to be a lot more forthcoming showing their appreciation.”
America loves Seal and Seal, wisely, loves America back.
“The main difference between America and Europe is they seem to be less preoccupied with the current vogue over here. Here, a record like Prayer For The Dying is never going to be pipped at the post by Mister Blobby.”
Seal laughs wildly. Imagine. Here is a man who has missed the entire chart run of that record by two pretend soldiers. But Seal may be just a little out of touch with life in Blighty.
“No, really, sometimes I’m still amazed by all this. I keep thinking, I’m just this boy from Paddington,” says Seal, sounding very much like a boy from Paddington. “I mean, six years ago, I was down the dole office every day screaming at them for my cheque!”
That’s not going to happen again. After the end of this tour, in four dates’ time, Seal takes four weeks off and then it’s back into the studio to record the third album, with that beloved band.
“Some of the stuff we’ve been running through in soundchecks has been amazing,” gushes the Sealster. “The band are so amazing. I couldn’t really have hoped for a better band.”
“I can’t emphasise how much I like the band,” he says, emphasising how much he likes the band. Q edges towards the door, smiling and waving.
“The band are great,” continues Seal. “The road crew are great…”