In the words of Erykah Badu, the concept of a "double bind" is “two conflicting ideas [that can result in] transcendence, an existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level." Though this phrase is usually applied to irreconcilable differences, in Badu's hands it becomes an opportunity for transcendence, words that define the evening my love and I spent at An Evening with Erykah Badu this past Valentine's Day. It’s been fifteen years since I have experienced such a feeling from a show; the last time was also thanks to Ms. Badu, on her Mama's Gun tour.
Badu performed at the Ogden Theatre on Sunday night backed by RC & the Gritz, a phenomenal band from Badu’s home town of Dallas. The band took the stage and dedicated the first twenty minutes of the show to J Dilla, playing immaculate covers of top-choice Dilla cuts, from "Fuck The Police" and "The Look of Love" to "Family Tree." This tribute, and reflecting on how many people Dilla touched through his genius, set the tone for the show.
After the twenty-minute dedication, Badu came out onto the stage wearing a tall brown Western hat, a black bomber jacket, and white harem pants tucked into boots. It was an outfit not many could get away with, but Ms. Badu oozes an electrifying confidence that allows her to wear and say anything she wants without catching flack.
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She began the set with "Out of My Mind" and went through her extensive catalogue, playing all of the favorites, including "On and On." Stationed to her left was a drum machine filled with 808 drum sounds, and she played drum sequences throughout the evening. During "Love of My Life," Badu went into a sequence of classic rap covers, including Whodini's "Friends," Slick Rick's "La Di Da Di" and NWA's "Gangsta Gangsta." She followed up that string of covers with a magnificent version of "Daylight," by Ramp, floating in and out of "Bonita Applebum," by A Tribe Called Quest, to clue in any audience members who were not aware of the original Roy Ayers composition. Her last cover of the night was during "I Want You," when Badu and the band broke into a blazing cover of "Don’t Stop the Music," by Yarbrough & Peoples. For comprising only four musicians and three backup singers, this band made some serious noise.
Ms. Badu is a leader. Her command is impeccable, keeping a crowd hanging on her every word. She spoke frequently from the stage though never long enough for the crowd to grow impatient. She explicitly mentioned using the "platform" of the stage or fame or artwork to start a larger dialogue about social issues in the world. She dedicated "Time's A Wastin'" to people suffering from depression and indicated that she wanted to open public conversation about mental illness. Throughout the performance, Badu commented on military occupation, empathy between armed forces and protestors, and much more. Though audience members occasionally cried out, "Preach!" — Badu's tone was generous and anything but didactic.
In my experience of the show, it seemed at times as though Badu had successfully helped an entire audience of 1,600 people to transcend themselves, and that we shared a realm of love, compassion, happiness and understanding. "You are all just weird versions of me," she said. "And I am you."
For a full set of photos by Kenneth Hamblin III, click here.