Erykah Badu, Jamie Foxx
Saturday, February 12, 2010
Better Than: Any other All-Star event going on that night--especially considering it was free.
It was a night of opposites. Crowd-pleasing pandering and natural creative energy. R&B loverman showboating and organic, funky soul. Jamie Foxx and Erykah Badu may both be Texas-born icons, but their shared set Saturday night proved the similarities end there.
Foxx delivered an amped-up showcase of his hits, but his set was most noteworthy for the scope of people to whom he gave shout-outs or commanded to make some noise and/or put up their hands.
"Dallas, make some noise!" he yelled early in the set. Then, in a nod to the out-of-towners here for the All-Star weekend, L.A. and New York got the chance to do the same. Eventually he got around to everyone, naming Sagittariuses, Libras, Scorpios, Hennessy drinkers, vodka drinkers and customers of the beer company that sponsored the event. But judging by the shout-out count, the group he respects most--or maybe the group he could count on for the biggest crowd response--is Independent Women.
Foxx won an Oscar for his imitation of Ray Charles--as he pointed out a couple of times during the night. It looks like he's trying to win another for his imitation of an average contemporary R&B hit-maker. Granted, he puts on an enthusiastic, energetic, crowd-pleasing show, and there were a few highlights like the clever "Just Like Me" with a cooled-out keyboard jam and riffing on "She's a Sagittarius! She's a sex-ittarius"--but just as many lowlights, like the guest vocals from the perennially shirtless musclebound cheeseball Tank. His extended version of "Blame It" to close the set was fun, but by then I was more than ready for the headliner.
The wait wouldn't be long. After a screening of the psychedelic kaleidoscope video for "Jump Up In The Air (And Stay There)" with Lil Wayne came the familiar opening lines to Weezy's "A Milli"--her customary introductory track--and the sight of her band setting up.
The deep groove and self-affirming lyrics of "20 Feet Tall," the first track of her New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh (due out March 30), set the tone for the set with five band members (including R.C. Williams on keys and Rashad "Ringo" Smith as DJ) and three backup singers (including Badu's little sister Nayrok Udab) laying down a perfect blend of soul, jazz, funk and hip hop. Even though the song has yet to be released, it already felt familiar and warm as a hug. The band was sharp, the sound was clear and the bass was punched up to bone-rattling levels.
"Welcome to Dallas, where we do things real big," she said before the opening chimes of her next song, a hypnotic version of "The Healer."
And she did do things real big, in a two-hour-plus, career-spanning show that demonstrated how she earned the nickname "Queen of Neo-Soul" more than a decade ago and then managed to transcend even that majestic moniker. Her contradictions and unique style make any such label simply inadequate. There was the signature organic, analog instrumentation, sure, but she rarely got too far from her laptop. She sang like a Billie Holiday-loving Earth Mother, yes, but also spat a few lines from Snoop Dogg's "DP Gangsta," and stopped the show down with an enthralling scat-and-drum-machine solo. And despite some eccentric pink eye makeup, she looked incredibly sexy--especially after she ditched her jacket, giving the fellas a better look at black vinyl pants so tight they could have been painted on.
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By the closing notes of "Bag Lady," her set had gone more than two hours, but it hardly felt like it.
"We'll be back in a couple months," she promised, referring to the next album. Judging by the roar of approval, so will the crowds.
Personal Bias: New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War was one of my favorite albums of 2008, and I've been looking forward to Part 2 since it came out.
By The Way: Photographer Danny Fulgencio saw Spike Lee's name on the guest list, but I never actually saw the director. Otherwise I don't have much to report in the way of celebrity spotting unless Pikahsso is considered a celebrity. Clearly, Alan Peppard's job is safe.