"I stopped drinking a week ago," Mr Hudson said wistfully from the stage last night. "The doctor says I had to stop drinking. So you know what happened? I got tonsillitis."
For his first ever New York show at the Canal Room, the Birmingham, England-born Hudson could be forgiven the occasional vocal slip. But there was no need. Working with a sturdy six-piece band that included two percussionists and a fetching backup singer, the newest signee to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music imprint missed nary a note, carrying his David Bowie-meets-Sting chops off without a hitch.
Though Tuesday night was Ben Hudson's first night onstage in NYC, he's hardly a novice. A Tale of Two Cities, his 2007 debut billed as Mr. Hudson & The Library, was only released in the U.K. on Mercury Records. The album (available on iTunes now), is a yearning dash of lounge pop — energetic but insouciant, romantic but never too forward. Hudson was an English gentlemen always falling into trouble; "Everything happens to me," he sang on the Frank Sinatra standard of the same name.
But everything changed for the unassuming Brit when he got a call while on vacation in Paris. It was Kanye, who'd gotten his hands on the singer's first album and found him terribly charming. West recruited Hudson for the propulsive, Duran Duran sound-alike, "Paranoid" from his 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak and then signed him to G.O.O.D. A few new collaborators (West and fellow G.O.O.D. artists Kid Cudi and Big Sean appear on the album) and one bad breakup later, his gleaming U.S. debut, Straight No Chaser, is set for release in October.
At the Canal Room, Hudson — dressed in tight black jeans cinched low, a black leather jacket and black sweater, with a mop of flash bulb white hair shimmering — looked something like a star. Confident and unflinching, he belted six songs from Straight No Chaser, including the gutshot heartbreaker "Anyone But Him" and the new wave stomper "White Lies." Talk of a cameo from Mr. West was buzzing throughout the downtown club, but though Hudson performed the gallant single, "Supernova," which features a Kanye guest verse, the superstar was a no show. Alas. This was more like a rookie hazing. And Hudson passed the first test.