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Concert Mon Jun 07 2010

Review: Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae @ The Chicago Theatre, 6/2/10

[This review was submitted by reader Emi Peters.]

When Erykah Badu enters a room, you take notice.

The eccentric soul songstress walked on stage, poised and ethereal, to grace an adoring audience during Wednesday night's performance at The Chicago Theatre. Dressed in a black trench coat, sunglasses and donning a thick mane of blond hair that cascaded down her back, Badu settled in between a laptop and an electronic drum kit, immediately getting into the first song of the evening, "20 Feet Tall," followed by almost two hours of non-stop entertainment.

While almost half of the songs performed were from her latest album, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), Miss Badu offered a 20+ song set for the packed house, pulling a selection of hits from every record in her six-album discography and showcasing a career that goes back 13 years, beginning with the acclaimed 1997 debut Baduizm, which won two out of its four Grammy Award nominations and earned the singer the deserved title of "high priestess of neo soul."

However, Wednesday night's performance proved Badu is much more than any title suggests. Her sheer physical presence commanded attention, despite her sartorially bland choice in clothing (underneath the trench coat, Badu wore a shabby t-shirt and rolled up sweat pants). She quite simply had a bewitching quality, and transfixed the audience, whose raised hands and occasional shouts of praise and joy reminded one of a Southern Baptist church service.

Old favorites were peppered in with new ones, including "On and On," "Appletree" and "Otherside of the Game" non of which came off as tired, as Badu was able to achieve a rather impressive vocal range (which is subdued by comparison in her studio recordings), complimented by a sultry sensuality and dominating spirit.

It was during the song "I Want You" from 2003's Worldwide Underground in which the show took a brief loss of control. As if not quite sure of the improvised and spastic selection herself--"I don't know how to dance to this," she tempted during the song--Badu called on a couple from the audience to dance on stage as she sang and tapped out beats on her electronic drum pad. The two lucky dancers obliged Badu's request with wild, interpretive moves, and changed up their pace to accompany the singer's fluctuating drum speed.

Badu is no stranger to eccentricity, and embraces the weirder side of R&B and soul, as evidenced by the first opening act Janelle Monae. The up-and-comer is a true original, and demonstrated her keen talent in a tight 30 minute set which included numbers from the EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite and her debut full-length The ArchAndroid. [Editor's note: the album was lauded recently on Sound Opinions, rating a "Buy It" from both Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis.]

The audience, which was not immediately receptive to Monae's unique demeanor and tuxedo donning backing band, was won over after a glossy cover of the Charlie Chaplin-composed, Nat King Cole-sung ballad "Smile," in which the crowd was able to hear Monae's true vocal abilities shine through. Her set ended with an exuberant rendition of her new single "Tightrope," complete with James Brown-esque footwork and cape routine. Monae earned a standing ovation as she made a dramatic exit through the venue's center aisle. N.E.R.D. was also in attendance to hype up the crowd with their alternative brand of hip-hop before Badu took to the stage. It was truly a triumphant night.

Erykah Badu Set List

1. 20 Feet Tall
2. Out My Mind, Just In Time
3. The Healer
4. Me
5. Umm Hmm
6. On and On
7. ...And On
8. No Love
9. Appletree
10. Fall In Love (Your Funeral)
11. I Want You
12. Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)
13. Didn't Cha Know
14. Next Lifetime
15. Tyrone
16. You Loving Me (Session)
17. Otherside of the Game
18. Window Seat
19. That Hump
20. Turn Me Away (Get Munny)
21. Encore: Bag Lady

-Emi Peters

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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