Twenty-five year old L.A. based singer Gallant is a force of nature as he explodes out onto the expansive Greek Theater stage in Berkeley. His set is early in the evening when the venue is still filling up; the first rays of the sunset are starting to beam over the concrete pavilion as a few more people find their seats. Gallant immediately finds his stride, his falsetto tones capture attention each time he reaches for his spectacular high notes; it feels like he is trying to make an impact.
Christopher Gallant is quickly working to redefine an R&B genre which, at times, has been yearning for a new sound and direction. His haunting vocals and stark range helped his 2016 debut album, Ology, gather critical acclaim from across the musical spectrum. His series, In The Room, has been yet another way for him to express himself musically, with daring collaborations with a range of musicians. From Seal to Sufjan Stevens (who Gallant toured with in 2015) have featured on In The Room and the latest edition is a stirring, piano-only, rendition of John Legend’s Overload. The result is a compelling and unpretentious version of the song with everything is stripped back so the focus is drawn to the two contrasting, yet complementary, vocal styles of John Legend and Gallant; the former’s warm tones offset by Gallant’s high, transcendent notes.
Percogesic is Gallant’s second song, and even though it is a lot slower than his opener he still finds a way to spin and twirl around the vast stage. His vocals soar, and in the picturesque and rustic setting of the Greek Theater, his screams feel chilling in a beautiful way. The crowd by now is starting to fill out some more. A glance at the back and you can see the odd sad face tee being worn with pride as if they were members of a secret club of music insiders.
The power in Gallant’s performance is in the raw beauty he draws from his source material; the sweetest of slow jams is made to feel urgent and necessary in the way he performs them. It feels like every ounce of energy is being drawn into that moment as he performs. It was on full display during Bone + Tissue, his green jacket hanging off one arm as he prowls from side to side like a panther. His only stops are to interact with each member of this three-piece band, who, dressed in all black, are spread out wide to fill the space. This song in particular displays the introspection in his music. In an interview with Billboard, he speaks to how his songs are about the relationship he has with himself, more so than any particular romantic relationships. “I’m asking a lot of questions and challenging myself within my head,” he said in the interview with Bonsu Thompson. It shows as his music is often very spiritual and contemplative, like a beautiful portrait shedding tears.
His set, opening for John Legend, is short; only six songs. It is a carefully crafted selection with a rendition of his famed duet with Jhene Aiko, Skipping Stones, featuring as well as his breakout hit, Weight In Gold.
The last time Gallant was in the Bay Area he sold out two nights at The Great American Music Hall and it is easy to see why. There is something compelling about not just his music, but the way he performs it. He is quickly making himself and his music essential. His next moves could be career defining; at a moment when the world the waiting for musicians to respond, Gallant’s introspective and thought-provoking music could be the tonic we need.