This past Saturday night, Erykah Badu was scheduled to perform as part of her annual birthday celebration. And the legendary singer is usually so legendarily late, that she made a post on social media the day of the show warning those who expected a late entrance that she wouldn't be on "Badu time" (which usually means midnight), and that the curtain would be rising promptly at 8 p.m. Of course, Erykah being Erykah, that would not be the case.
When doors opened at 7 p.m., there was a line several blocks in length already formed outside of Deep Ellum’s Bomb Factory. The line moved efficiently — quickly, even — but for an hour it never seemed to shrink. The show had been sold out since it was first announced, and fans who wanted to be up front had been standing outside the door since midday, waiting for Badu.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is generally described as Theater of the Absurd; spoiler alert, Godot never appears, but, while waiting for the elusive character, Vladimir and Estragon engage in a series of broad-ranging conversations among themselves and with strangers who appear on the road. There were some parallels here. Except, Badu was certain to appear. Her friends and family were in the house, and her daughter Puma was making her singing debut.
At 9 p.m. there was a hush as the house music dims and two performers took the stage, lit by a single spotlight. The master of ceremonies popped up in a white tuxedo, androgynous and contorting, followed by a single trumpeter. Move over Beckett, this is Badu’s stage.
What followed was a birthday party in 14 acts. Thundercat played, Tierra Whack got the crowd bouncing and Trapboy Freddy was in top form. The prodigal daughter, Puma, came out for a single, soulful number. In between, there was dancing, lots of dancing, and it was all great. Musicians and equipment were rolled in and out of place on the Spartan set, which led to a couple of malfunctions, but they were overcome and the show rolled on.
As good as it was, 14 acts is still 14 acts. Even Godot only has two. As Saturday started winding down, some of the entertainment seemed less like a tasty appetizer, and more like another barrier between the crowd and the start of the main course. Francis and the Lights bore the worst of the crowd’s restlessness. Appearing without the Lights or any visible accompaniment, a set that started as endearing ended in a tacit, though tangible, “Thank you, but we want Erykah.”
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By early Sunday morning, the signal we'd been waiting for projected onto the curtain: Act 14, Badu. Was it worth the wait? Yes, of course it was. She is Badu. Her voice, her band, her people all followed her lead as she jumped effortlessly between the intellectual to the vulgar, the sarcastic and the drop dead serious. She held the entire venue mesmerized for the duration of her set, and the connection only faltered as she ended the last piece and glided slowly back to the darkened recesses of the stage. It was a night — or early morning — to remember.
OK, wait, wait, WAIT one fucking minute! It’s Erykah Badu’s birthday and damn it was only 2 o’clock in the morning. The party was just getting started. A cake was rolled out as friends, family and performers crowded onto the stage. Balloons came down and confetti came up. "We gonna do this two ways," someone announced: "The normal way and then the black people’s way."
The onstage group sang happy birthday and then the real party started. Badu was dancing. Badu was twerking. Badu was crowd surfing. Badu was kissing her children and smiling hard and … Badu was happy. And it's no longer just Badu whose happiness we'd be allowed to participate in — Badu the performer, the myth and superstar, but Erykah's; Erykah the person, Puma's mom, the one celebrating with family, letting all of Dallas celebrate with her. Time stood still, and for a fleeting moment we got a glimpse of the woman behind the force field of Badu’s personality. It was pretty awesome.