Erykah Badu may not have released an official studio album in a dozen years, but she remains an unstoppable creative spirit, not to mention an entrepreneur. During the pandemic years, she has been very busy, hosting a station on Radio Sonoslaunching his own live streaming platform and producing a forthcoming documentary about his dear friend, collaborator and high school classmate, the late jazz trumpet phenom Roy Hargrove— not to mention the unveiling of a sprig of popular incense inspired by her, uh… ill na na.
Yet Badu is first and foremost an artist, musician and singer with a catalog of beloved compositions that have had an indelible impact on the lives of people around the world for three decades. Erykah remains a brilliant and idiosyncratic live performer who meticulously concocts her own patented hybrid style of R&B and hip-hop, equal parts Zen mysticism and street sound.
This writer had the chance to enjoy a good part of her performance last month at the Place du Congo Stage at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, headlining the second Saturday of the festival. It was excruciatingly hot and humid that afternoon, and while her performance was generally great, the experience suffered somewhat from the sweltering sun. I was certainly looking forward to a spellbinding session in the balmy Bay Area within the glorious confines of UC Berkeley. William Hearst Greek Theater.
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On an unusually warm Friday night in late spring, Erykah Badu returned to a sold-out Greek for the eighth gig on her current show. Live from the Badubatron round. The ever-whimsical witch unveiled a streamlined, reimagined version of her greatest hits set that leaned back to the popular numbers from her acclaimed 1997 debut album. Baduizme.
Bay Area fans were treated to a short and powerful opening set from Namelesswhich was performing for the first time in a few years, a fact that she recognized both on Instagram, and the scene. Suffice to say after such a long audience absencefans were extremely excited to see Noname live and live in her artistic element.
After a few solo numbers, the beloved Chicago singer, host, activist and poet invited his fellow Windy City native Saba and Saint Louis Smino on stage to play in trio ghetto sage. The team released their new joint “Häagen Dazs”, plus a medley of previous cuts that managed to thrill the crowd, and reminded them why Noname was so hot ahead of their chosen extended hiatus.
After Noname’s first set, Badu’s band emerged and took to the stage, wearing white t-shirts worn under bright lemon yellow jumpsuits that looked striking in the stage lights. They started with Afrobeat grooves, then Miami bass before moving first to a jam based on Badu’s “American Promise” and then to a hip-hop version. James Brownthe iconic “Sex Machine”. Although imploring the crowded theater to “stand up”, accompanied by demonstrative gestures from the choristers, the majority of the audience remained seated.
So much, in fact, that the band reduced it to silence before an awkward fifteen minutes of nervous anticipation that may have cost us a few songs.
After the crowd thought it was cool to turn on their cellphone lights in unison and sing along, instead of – I don’t know – standing up as we were asked to, the band kicked off “Sex Machine” again. “around 9:45 p.m. More rise, to more mixed results.
A huge image of an Egyptian scarab with the initials “EB” was projected above the musicians. Eventually, Badu strutted onto the stage at her own pace, quietly smearing the space with sage while looking ravishing in a shimmering gold coat with long fringe, a towering black hat over her long tresses, and sideburns. wild boots to boot.
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As was his custom lately, Badu warmed things up with “Hello,” from his 2016 mixtape release. You can’t use my phoneitself a psychedelic reading of Todd Rundgren“Hello It’s Me.” She sipped a large cup of tea as she positioned herself between drum machines and a microphone at the front of the stage, holding the entire Greek in the palm of her high priestess hand from the moment she finally told us honored.
After “Out My Mind, Just in Time”, Erykah took the opportunity to insist on the following rule of the Badubatron: “Mind Ya Business” before directing his ensemble towards Faith, Hope and Charity‘s “To Each Their Own. The band deftly followed up with the celestial combo of “On & On” from their debut, naturally followed by “..& On” from their second opus. Mom’s gun.
The latter took us all the way to the church and almost caught the Holy Spirit, with a stop at the park for a session of cardboard breakdancing and a few bars of Freddie Hubbard‘s “Red Clay” for good measure. After that funky outro, a spirited run through “Love Of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)”, found on 2003 global undergroundfinally rocked asses and beaming smiles to one of Erykah’s most heartwarming love songs.
A super-sexy, synthesized dip in “Phone Down” was dropped in somewhat raunchy, choppy, and screwed style. With another neat streak, Badu and company rolled out the evening’s centerpiece, a scintillating sojourn through “Otherside of the Game.” Always imbued with a relevant realism, “Otherside of the Game” tells the familiar story of a fractured love affair between a frustrated woman and a drug dealer, she who loves unconditionally, he who cares for a karmic price. This gripping personal purge can also be found on his monumental debut record, and has been delivered both faithfully to the original and spiced up with an updated arrangement fluently Dilla Time.
Badu revamped his band members not long ago, now wielding a 10-piece ensemble complete with deejay and four supporting vocals. Erykah threw the keys from music director to drummer/percussionist Frank Moka, the only instrumental remnant of his previous crew. Longtime choristers like Durand Bernard staying on the team, so Badubatron’s band sounds were a sweet mix of familiar and fresh, bringing more worn numbers to life.
Between songs, the singer lost much less time than usual; she seemed determined to get things done in a steady flow, instead of the various starts and stops of her longer, deeper, more ambitious sets. Although every once in a while Erykah just couldn’t help it, and she had to get worked up on the drum pads every once in a while, probably just because she could, although frankly she became damn good.
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Badu chatted a bit about some of the same things she always does, specifically wondering out loud what decade her fans were born in, their connection to the Baduizme album, and what they gleaned from their relationship to those songs. Badu has long been a proponent of maintaining the oral tradition. Somehow she also managed to flip-flop between real talk and a “Cocksuckers Ball” themed riff, to a tune that mimicked early ’60s soul styles. . to the Clovers.
“Window Seat”, the first single from New Amerykah Part Two, was revealed with a rather sublime arrangement that kept intact the same midtempo groove that had been established for most of the night. With more kaleidoscopic projection-mapped psychedelic art illuminated above the group, Erykah pranced and hummed into the crescent moon. Although as the 11:00 p.m. curfew approached, Badu seemed to be running through the latter at a faster pace than usual.
Fat Belly Bella sent the stalwart home with a four-pack Baduizme slow jams. She busted out some deeper early cuts, including the dusty, soothing, scat-filled “No Love,” then transformed from mystic to vocalist and swiped a mickey with the certified single “Certainly.” Badu saved a pair of his most popular joints to close things out – penultimate “Next Lifetime” has remarkable staying power, stunning with another sultry arrangement of the classic.
After a few words that hinted at a goodbye, Badu gave people what many of them had come for, a crowd-assisted duet of his hit debut single, “Tyrone.” As fans mimed phone calls and waved index fingers louder than Dikembe Mutumbo, the Empress strutted barefoot across the stage and blew kisses to the adoring crowd as she sang her greatest song. A smiling Erykah bowed gracefully, offering a brief priestly blessing on unity before disappearing backstage and into the moonlit night.
Although this Badu set was a bit shorter than die-hard fans have grown accustomed to, it was a lean, streamlined and well-acted greatest hits set, with some powerful deep cuts for the heads. . Many of his tracks have been remixed or rearranged in one way or another, not to mention plenty of flowing sequences, funky breakdowns, and cascading multi-layered vocal harmonies.
Of course, there were quite a few jams on the slower side as well. I tend to think that the nonchalant mood of the crowd and the relative lack of dancing at the start of the game may have affected how the singer chose to run the show. I too would have greatly enjoyed a spin through “Back in the Day”, “Honey”, or “Bag Lady”, each in the rotation on the Live from the Badubatron round. And it’s a bit of a puzzle that ethereal mainstay “The Healer” seems to have been scratched from the current setlists entirely. Then again, Erykah is still working in a relatively new backing band, and the tracks they perform are exciting and incandescent, even reborn at times.
But alas, given all that we have been through collectively lately, I prefer to emphasize gratitude, for the gift of live music and the blessing of an Erykah Badu concert. It’s her name on the marquee, and the girlfriend should do whatever she wants. Instead of lamenting too loudly what once was or might have been, I’ll give thanks for the songs she chose to sing for us, and gladly show up the next time Badubatron slips into the bay.
Setlist: Erykah Badu | William Hearst Greek Theater | Berkeley, California | 06/10/22
Set: American Promise (jam), Hello, Out My Mind, Just in Time, To Each His Own (Faith, Hope & Charity) > On & On / …& On , Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop), Phone Down > Otherside of the Game, Window Seat, No Love, Certainly > Next Life