"This one is by Bob Dylan, y'all!" shouted Raphael Saadiq in Los Angeles Saturday night, as he led a band of young soul-stirrers through a steamy, forceful reading of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" in the plaza outside the Annenberg Space for Photography.
In their hands, the folk-blues classic swung hard with a warm funk flavor, a fitting collision of styles for the occasion – a live musical celebration of the Who Shot Rock & Roll exhibition inside, with nearly 200 iconic photographs from a half-century of rock, soul and hip-hop.
The concert with Saadiq and Band of Skulls for a capacity crowd of 4,000 was the last of three events organized by KCRW-FM, and it also marked the release of Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan (where Saadiq's "Pill-Box Hat" first appeared).
The performances were short but potent. "Let's keep it simple, have some fun and play grooves," Saadiq told Rolling Stone of his "cool little quick hit" of a set. He chose to keep things in "the bluesy realm."
At twilight beneath the twin towers of Century City, Saadiq and his six-person band opened with the title song from his 2011 soul album, Stone Rollin', before ripping through scorching readings of "Heart Attack," "Radio" and "100 Yard Dash." For his closing "Skyy, Can You Feel Me," Saadiq handed over some lyrics to keyboardist Charles Jones, who was dressed in a black choir robe as he wailed, "I've never felt this way!"
The show was a one-off performance for the singer-guitarist, who was taking a break from writing his next album at a Los Angeles studio. He said he would return again to see the photography show inside. "I'm trying to shoot a little bit myself," he said of the exhibition, which continues through Oct. 7th. "I'm always looking at a lot of great photographers to see the things they capture on tour."
Closing the night was Band of Skulls, who flew into L.A. that morning from their appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago. The British rock trio would fly right back the next day to begin a tour with Jane's Addiction. They opened their Annenberg show with the title song from their new album, Sweet Sour, as singer-bassist Emma Richardson and singer-guitarist Russell Marsden harmonized a frayed melody.
Backstage before their set, Marsden told Rolling Stone the song has set the tone for their U.S. festival and concert dates,mixing soft melodic passages with muscular blues-rock flourishes and other "heavy weaponry" developed during the making of the new album.
"It's got everyone's signature moves, " Marsden said of the title song. "Just when you think it's going to rock out a little more, it's got a passage that's really delicate. If you can put all those elements into one song, that's probably the ultimate one. If we finally nail it, we'll stop."
Band of Skulls closed the night with a bruising "Death by Diamonds and Pearls," stretched out with some frantic leads from Marsden. The band made the most of its short time onstage.
"We were trying to play longer, but apparently the P.A. will be turned off," drummer Matt Hayward said with a smile. "I always look at gigs like an airplane flight – it gets up in the air, and when the seatbelt signs go off, you know the plane's OK, and you're just cruising for a while. Then it gets a bit turbulent as you're coming down to the end. Hopefully you don't crash and burn."