Curtis Harding Malkin Bowl, Vancouver BC, June 7

Curtis Harding Malkin Bowl, Vancouver BC, June 7
Photo: Amy Ray
Taking the Michigan gospel to Atlanta, where he sang backup for Cee-Lo Green, Curtis Harding's set at Levitation injected some much needed soul into the lineup. Aided by a five-piece band, with alto sax, guitar, organ, and a rhythm section, their rendition of "Drive My Car" from his 2014 debut album Soul Power delivered that true rhythm and blues swagger, and an impassioned take on soul slow jam "I Need a Friend," featuring a buttery falsetto from Harding.
However, while his style was refreshing in context, kind of a circa-1999 Santana meets Aloe Blacc and the Heavy vibe, his set suffered from the festival jinx. His alto sax guy and organist were barely audible for the majority of their set, mostly silent until almost 20 minutes in. Before that, it seemed like their songs were mostly a vehicle for Harding's convincing vocals, ever sweet with some of that "seen some shit" grit, and his lead guitarist's pristine soloing, but the whole revival came to life whenever they finally got the sax and piano working.
This sound problem wasn't the only weird thing about their set, though. Harding's banter seemed oddly aggressive. He considered the muggy afternoon to be perfect "punch your buddy in the face" weather, said he liked us no matter what everyone has been saying about us (although that was possibly a reference to Vancouver recently being called mind-numbingly boring), and told his band to "break it down, bitch" during his otherwise uplifting single "Keep On Shining." But he was a larger-than-life character, and his confidence carried through his vocals to bring his soul stew to a simmer.
Curtis Harding at Levitationl, Vancouver BC, 2015 06 07