Erykah Badu review – an exhilarating moment in the eccentric orbit of a star | Music


Jhere is a strong collective inspiration in the Royal Festival Hall, as a voice comes out of the loudspeakers. “Erykah will join us as soon as possible.” In Badu World – or “Badubotron”, as the singer has recently called it – time is elastic. Off topic. It could mean waiting hours for her to take the stage. Even hours and hours. In recent years, she’s become perhaps as much known for her loose timing – and give free rein to certain unpopular opinions — as to being the sage bohemian soul that changed the sound of R&B in the late 90s and whose influence is ubiquitous in modern music.

But not tonight. The first of two shows announced to celebrate a quarter century of her debut album, Baduizm, the Dallas native struts into view, 15 minutes from her allotted start time. His excellent players, all nine of them, wowed the audience with a ripple of tones from Caint Use My Phone, which riffs on one of his most beloved tracks, Tyrone. And now she’s in the spotlight, ready to shoot, wearing a hat in her signature Holy Mountain extreme hat, fur jacket and leggings by Mya Hasbany which look like floating sea anemones. They swoosh hypnotically. It speaks to her current fashion as a front-row fashionista, but it also seems to suggest “outlaw.”

Since Badu’s last outing, an acclaimed mixtape, released nearly a decade ago, her live shows are the closest clue to who she is in 2022: facing forward, forever in her own orbit. Those expecting a trip solely through her classic album Tonight – which sold millions when it was released in 1997 and won two Grammys – for their pricey ticket might have been disappointed. Badu does not maintain a clear and sharp nostalgia. She plays a bunch of Baduizm songs, often massaged into new forms, alongside other favorites like Window Seat, the 10 Minutes Out My Mind, Just In Time and Baduizm’s follow-up Mama’s Gun, Time’s A Wastin’ and Green Eyes (on which she sounds particularly superb).

Outlaw look… Erykah Badu and the players at the Royal Festival Hall. Photographer: Arnaud Mbaki

This Tantric line through its catalog creates, overall, an eccentric fantasy spectacle. This is where earthy, primal energy meets computerized boundaries, synths and sci-fi visuals: yogic breaths; his voice changing from pure control to an unattached scream; a jazzy Todd Rundgren cover; cages of multicolored lasers in the middle of hammered congas; a gripping, drum-fueled cover of Burning Spear’s Jah No Dead; the brilliant moment when she dances like she’s in Fela Kuti’s band; the beeps and bloops as if turning off after a song. The cosmic soup is exhilarating and, at times, dizzying, and lands the tunes where it’s just Badu and the piano, singing the blues, harder.

And what about the future? This week she performed on Misunderstood, a new Roots track with Tierra Whack, although there’s still no news on her own material. For now, words of wisdom will have to do. Badu has long been sought out for spiritual guidance and the overarching message here seems to be one of self-reliance. She recites Faith, Hope & Charity’s disco hit To Each His Own as individualistic gospel (“The best business…is minding your own business”) and ends hopefully: “There will be a better day, if you believe in better days.” Erykah Badu: totally timeless.

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