Better Than: Staying home, watching American Idol and really pulling for that kid with the dreads.
It took a bit for Erykah Badu to hit the stage last night (she came on stage around 11:30), but when she did, man, she brought it.
Donning sunglasses, a black leather jacket and a teased out afro (a staunch difference from the more toned down look she sported the night before at Bill’s Records) Badu showed from the first minute of her set that it was she and she alone who would be in control of the set. With her voice rising and dropping with ease, fluttering atop the sounds of the 15 or so rotating crew of backing musicians and singers she employed throughout the night, Badu acted as much a stage director and conductor as she did a vocalist. Using hand signals and less discreet “stop!” and “hold up a minute!” vocal directives, Badu stopped and started the sound behind her to allow her voice to showcase its most brilliant range and lyrics.
Were it any other musician, with any less of a commanding stage presence and any less of an ownership for her personal sound, it could’ve been perceived as a diva-like performance. But the crowd was digging it and the musicians, it seemed, were just happy to have been invited along for the ride.
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The audience wasn’t offered too much of Badu’s past—instead they were constantly reminded of her future and the fact that we all were, indeed, “a part of a New Amerykah.” The bit worked to a T, as Badu ran through the first 10 of the 11 tracks on her new album in succession (the biggest highlight coming with “The Healer,” in which Badu procliams hip-hop as bigger than religion and the government) and saving the final track and first single off of the album, “Honey” for last—and after she’d introduced a few of her friends to the crowd. Among them: her mother, Dave Chappelle, ?uestlove, 9th Wonder, up-and-coming crooner Deion (who performed a song), Badu’s cohorts in her side project Edith Funker and rock poster artists Emek. “Happy Birthday” songs were sang, hugs and presents were given, and the Badu love was truly in the air on stage and off.
As the night plowed on, Badu and her crew delved into a more jam-like performance, leaving the produced tracks behind in favor of freestyle sessions. And though it was getting late and the crowd was growing thinner, Ms. Badu carried on, right up until the employees in the sound booth began telling her that it was time to close shop. She lingered on stage a bit longer, thanking her fans for showing up and supporting her. Clearly she didn’t want to leave. And, more clearly, the ones who still remained in the audience at that point didn’t want her to either.
All in all, it was quite the insight into the off-stage persona of this onstage rock star. And it killed.
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I’m a big fan of Dave Chapelle, 9th Wonder’s old act, Little Brother, and Emek, the poster artist who did all the art work for Badu’s newest album. Random Detail: Bun B was supposed to show last night and was supposedly waiting in the wings—but he never made it on stage. By the way: Little Brother’s got a remix of Badu’s “Honey” up on their Myspace page. -- Pete Freedman