Erykah Badu Salle Wilfred Pelletier, Montreal QC, June 29
Published Jun 30, 2015It doesn't get any better than this. Most artists would be cowed by the grandeur of Montreal's largest concert hall, yet the sheer size and plushness were like a second skin for the incomparable Erykah Badu. This was simply a phenomenal show in every way. Badu's talent, poise, exactitude, and eventually, playfulness were framed within a rapturously exhausting show that showed her talents to the fullest.
Following a decent opening set by resurgent rapper Charles Hamilton and a few warm-up minutes from her band, Badu sallied forth very deliberately as hundreds of screaming people abandoned their seats to push their way down front to the foot of the stage. After a dizzying entrance with the funky and uplifting "20 Feet Tall" — as great an opening song as it was on New Amerykah Part II — she dropped it way down to the dead slow "Out My Mind, Just In Time," and the crowd was right there with her. How many artists can pull that off? Then she dropped "On and On" — still one of her best known songs, another bold choice at this point in the show and the mayhem increased.
Meanwhile she was utterly cool on stage, sporting a regal ensemble of an oversized cap, a checked square scarf that looked like a bit like a tartan, atop a dark, oversized jacket. She moved very purposefully, using hand gestures to great effect, either punctuating lyrics or cueing the band.
The band itself was an interesting guitar-less configuration, which for which the credit "drum machinist" was an important one. The kit drummer clearly held down the groove, but manually triggered electronic drums, sometimes by Badu herself, dovetailed into the live rhythms seamlessly. This is not so uncommon in contemporary R&B but gave additional freshness to 15-year-old material — neo-neo-soul?
For over 90 minutes, the band moved back and forth through Badu's catalogue (including references to collaborations with other artists such as former paramour Common) with only a few solo turns from bass and drums — it was all about the locked-in arrangements and flow. She also had the guts to rewind a song when it got off on the wrong foot: "keep in mind, I'm an artist" she stated, and that was totally fine by us. The classics kept coming: "Bag Lady," "Cleva" and "Window Seat," all animated by low-key but very effective and diverse visual projections, which flowed between multi-coloured triangles, video game gifs, vintage footage of African dance, and pink waterfalls flowing backwards and forward, all synced to musical elements within the songs.
Finally, her cool demeanour warmed up as she shed her jacket and embraced the love by shaking hands, hi-fiving and signing autographs at the side of the stage. Truly, the festival's Ella Fitzgerald Award for "range, versatility and improvisational originality" — awkwardly given to her by festival founder Alain Simard towards the end of the show — was deserved many times over given this incredible command performance.