Caught them at the Tower Theatre Tuesday night. Captivating show. Janelle Monae is an incendiary performer. I feel bad for any artist who has to follow her act. She’s James Brown reincarnate with a dash of Sun Ra’s outer space imagery for good measure. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone sing and dance so well in a live setting, much less the sometimes hollow Tower, which can be a tough room to warm up even for seasoned performers.
Her energy completely overshadowed Bilal’s set, who coasted a bit on the strength of the hometown crowd. I must admit that his cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving” you was a bit inspired, although his band didn’t really have the chops to really drive it home. As Dan DeLuca observes, Bilal had what it takes to be a neo-soul star in the making back in 2001; now, some nine years removed, who doesn’t shudder when they hear “neo-soul?”
Erykah Badu mesmerized the audience. Her mere presence commanded the room’s attention and she held it for two hours, possessing them with a mixture of songcraft and guile. Badu is a fortunate member of the neo-soul scene, experiencing something of a renaissance since she began the New Amerykah series in 2008. She’s incorporated elements that draw on Parliament and Funkadelic, updating her once staid, Starbucks soul sound. Even the stuff from her 1997 debut, Baduizm, didn’t sound dated thirteen years on. She is a singer at the height of her powers and if you miss her, you’re really missing something special.