Last Night: Erykah Badu at Verizon Theatre

Erykah Badu, B.o.B., Janelle Monae
Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie
June 15, 2010

Better than: standing 20 feet tall.

For a good five minutes at the start of Erykah Badu's two-hours-and-20-minute visual and aural onslaught at Grand Prairie's Verizon Theatre last night, there was darkness.

Her backing band--consisting of two drummers, a keyboardist, two multi-instrumentalists, a flautist, a DJ and four back-up singers--solemnly held their positions on stage, teasing the opening bars of "20 Feet Tall" from Badu's spring-released New Amerykah, Part II: Return of the Ankh and playing them on loop.

Then, suddenly: Screams started rising from the front of the house. Badu had been sighted just off-stage. Moments later, a figure appeared amidst the darkness, carrying a flashlight that was pointed into the crowd. It was Badu, of course--and, within seconds, the house spotlight shined on her, putting her on display for the crowd.

And even as the crowds filtered out at the end of the night, exhausted from a marathon-like performance from the happy-to-be-home singer, she remained in that position.

And quite the display it was: Recent controversy aside, Badu seems more confident than ever these days--and happy, too. While starting off her set almost exclusively with cuts off her new disc, Badu wavered back and forth between uber-dramatic (she started the set off dressed in a dark overcoat and top hat) and gleeful (she quickly eschewed those items in favor of a yellow tee and sweatpants, and let down her suddenly dirty blonde hair). And though breezy on record, the new material shined; as was the case with most songs offered up throughout the night, the new songs were giving a live treatment update--namely, more of a pulse--that added a visceral quality to their otherwise billowing sounds.

Badu too seemed to enjoy the updates. She teased the audience--calling men in the front rows up to stage's edge only to quickly push them away--and skipped about, smiling ear-to-ear and reveling in the fact that "This is my city and it's good to be home--OK, I'm always here, but whatever."

And she was in top form, belting and hissing at the top of her lungs, while tossing off with even more regularity her token commands of "Wait!" to her backing band when she wanted them to drop out and allow her voice to shine alone.

The crowd was in awe--and rightfully so. With her massive backing band her even-more-commanding-than-usual stage presence and a heavy-duty light system giving the stage its warm, inviting feel, Badu's showcase last night felt less like a stop in Grand Prairie, and more like a stage show fit to be hosted on an intergalactic cruise ship in The Fifth Element. it was a ddazzling display only matched by Badu's effervescence and clearly well-rehearsed performance.

And it only turned into more of a crowd-pleaser when Badu announced that she was going to take the crowd "way back" to 1997 to hear some cuts of her debut release, Baduizm. It was exactly what the reverent audience wanted to hear, and it responded in kind by loudly singing along, dancing before their seats and whooping their hero along with the most appropriate of timing.

It was a sequence only to be topped again, moments later, when Badu belted out a medley of hip-hop cover songs during "Love of My Life," among them Whodini's "Friends," Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh's "La Di Da Di," and NWA's "Gangsta Gangsta." Badu could barely contain her contentment, dancing along with the crowd and laughing all the way.

Then, after another New Amerykah Pt. II cut, "Fall in Love (Your Funeral)," and a quick lip-synch of Lightning Hopkins' "Black Ghost Blues," the night started to wind down. Badu--if as part of a bit or a legitimate warning--was told her band's time was up. So she played one more song: "Danger." And then another--the ever-controversial "Window Seat." Then came another warning. And another defiant encore--this time "Soldier" from New Amerykah Pt. I--after which Badu waved goodbye and walked off stage. The crowd, followed suit, heading for the aisles--only to be drawn back when Badu's DJ grabbed the mic and chided them for doing so.

Lastly, Badu offered "Bag Lady" from New Amerykah Pt. I. And then night, almost mercifully, came to a close, 140 minutes after it started.

Felt more like 90, though.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I've probably written about Badu more than any other artist during my time here at the Observer--not because I'm a huge fan, necessarily, but because her every move of late has been interesting and newsworthy. Musically, she's pushing tons of boundaries these days, too. And, live, she's taking things to a whole new level--even more so at this performance than at any of the half-dozen I've seen in the past two year. And it paid off: If this wasn't the best show of the year, it belongs damn close to the top of the list

Random Note: Looks like the next single off the new album will be "Fall in Love (Your Funeral)." As Badu performed the song, a music video for the song played on the screen behind the stage.

By The Way: Earlier in the night, opening act, up-and-coming rapper B.o.B., hilariously trashed the current climate of hip-hop for glorifying "patron and swag, patron and swag, patron and swag." He also bemoaned his lack of street cred--something that's likely attributed to the fact that, on a number of songs, in addition to singing and rapping, he also played acoustic guitar. It might no be very "street" of him to play guitar, but guy's got a point--it's not like singing and rapping and playing a guitar makes what he does any easier. Plus, the guy's already on his way toward earning a better kind of cred by aligning himself with acts like Badu. Something tells me he'll be OK.

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