Lenny Kravitz has always stuck to his own beat. He grew up in Sixties New York, around luminaries such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, and was later influenced by the riff-rock of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. At the start of his career in the Eighties, industry heads told him that his music wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough”, and encouraged him to follow the path of contemporary R&B. However, throughout his career Kravitz has resolutely held true to his unique blend of psychedelia, funk and soul, a jet-setting rock that transcends the boundaries of musical trends.
Thirty years since his debut album Let Love Rule, Kravitz has lost none of his pomp, still displaying the undiminished fury of his youth. Much like his school buddy Slash, he hasn’t aged a day, but most importantly he still sounds like no one else, maintaining a level of cool and creativity and vehemently keeping that bohemian spirit alive.
His Wembley gig marked the last of a trio of UK dates on his current world tour, his first performances in Britain since 2014. The tour itself, for his 11th album Raise Vibration out in September, is also the first time that Kravitz has played an album in concert before releasing it – a risk, perhaps, but it seems that a four-year hiatus writing at his beachfront Bahamian home has revitalised the 54-year-old further. New tracks Low and It’s Enough are smooth and sumptuous, the latter a protest song taking in environmental disaster and the abuse of political power.
In his uniform of denim jacket, sunglasses and black leather flares, occasionally revealing a snakeskin Cuban heel, he appeared on a podium to the beckoning ostinato of his 1998 hit Fly Away. Tilting the set generously for his fans, he soon followed with the mainstream roar of American Woman. With the stage bathed in yellow light and Kravitz nonchalantly flicking plectrums into the audience, he dialled down the pace and segued into Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up, his brass ensemble swaying to the cool Caribbean beat. Stomping along, you could almost feel the sand beneath your feet.
Though there was nothing theatrical about his entrance, keeping the staging remarkably simple with two giant horns and little else, there was ample rock posturing. At one point Kravitz almost licked the microphone – not necessarily a bad thing since it helped emphasise that distinct, throaty drawl of his, which at times slipped seamlessly into falsetto.
Nevertheless, Kravitz remains free of ego, letting each member of his tremendous band have a moment to shine before slotting back into the song. Poodle-haired guitarist Craig Ross, in lilac flares, was on hand for incendiary guitar solos, while Harold Todd wooed with his syrupy sax. David Bowie’s former bassist Gail Ann Dorsey gave plenty of slap to Always on the Run. The sound production, too, was as clear as a bell and among the best out there.
With his Flying V Gibson strapped to his chest as a badge of honour, Kravitz remains the ultimate symbol of rebellion and frantic energy. For the encore, he stretched out Let Love Rule to 15 and a half minutes, almost performing a communion with his fans. “I got to get me some of this,” he announced as he snaked his way through the audience, climbing up to sing and conduct his love revolution mantra from the top tier. Mesmerised by the man and his music, the crowd, with arms aloft, knew this was something special.
Touring internationally. Tickets: lennykravitz.com