Conventional critical wisdom often insists that when it comes to music, the words "quality" and "popular" are mutually exclusive. But in one fell swoop last night -- well, OK, two fell swoops -- Erykah Badu reminded us that doesn't have to be the case.
Badu's show inaugurating Dallas' outpost of the House of Blues didn't sell out -- no surprise, as the cheap seats sold for nearly $70 -- but she filled the place with her singular brand of soul, funk and hip-hop. Mixing songs from her most popular albums with several new cuts, Badu couldn't have moved the crowd more, couldn't have sung better, couldn't have had a better band, couldn't have been more fitting as the Dallas HOB's christening act.
That would have been enough, but what followed transformed an already stunning night into a truly special one. Following her first set, Badu debuted her latest project, the Cannabinoids -- a freaky, funky collective of Dallas-area producers, musicians and DJs. Clad in matching purple hoodies, the group -- consisting of local luminaries such as Picnic, Headkrack, Skin and several others -- glided through about 45 minutes of material, most of it improved on the fly. Tthe music flowed smoothly from a drum-machine jam to a keyboard riff to subtle record scratching, all conducted by Badu.
The musicians in the Cannabinoids were all hand-picked by Badu, and she couldn't have chosen a better crew. The chemistry -- the flow -- between each individual worked as smoothly as a 6-4-3 double play. Which is not to say it was not an odd performance, as Headkrack rapped in his electronically altered voice, which listed from a helium squeak to Darth Vader bass. But it was risky, smart and full of ass-shaking moments brought down the house...House of Blues, that is. --Jonanna Widner