It’s not every evening that a city gets to host an artist on the cusp of legendary musical status — and who has a group of musicians holding the metaphorical baton of an entire genre of American music opening for her. That’s exactly what transpired when Erykah Badu headlined the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Wednesday on the opening night of the Soul’d Out Music Festival.
Twenty-one years after her debut album, “Baduizm,” Badu took the packed crowd on a philosophical journey, with music as her guiding force. Opening for her was R+R = Now, a band featuring some of the biggest names in jazz today, pushing the elements of music, while also pushing themselves as a newly formed supergroup. It was a night of stories, jokes and musical exploration. And it was just the beginning of a weekend packed with some of the biggest, best and bold names in music today.
Is Erykah Badu a legend? Badu strolled onto the Arlene Schnitzer stage wearing a straw top hat, a trench coat, an oversized sweatshirt, sweatpants and boots looking as if they were crafted “elsewhere.” And she was by far and away the best dressed, stylish and coolest human in the building — because she’s “Cleva.”
Opening with “Hello,” Badu invited the Soul’d Out Music Festival audience to look back at her journey from a college kid singing to beats, to a woman of 47 who has evolved into a mother, doula and artistic force. Badu’s presence alone was polarizing.
The set was a sonic experience. The musicians played magic. Even the background videos graphically hypothesized a greater simulation (literally). At times she gave monologues about life and the stresses of our day-to-day struggles. She cursed out her band (wink, wink) and even dropped it like it was hot a few times.
And in another beat, she gave witty banter that made those in attendance laugh as if she’d made them giggle thousands of times before. In other spaces, she proved that she could belt out powerhouse chords with the best of them — any of them. Ever. Badu, a staple of the neo-soul movement, made clear that even after 20-plus years in the business, she has tons left to create, perform and teach. Is Erykah Badu a legend? Hell, yes. — David Stuckey
R+R = Now
OK, sure they were just opening for Erykah Badu, and sure their headline set isn’t until Thursday, but why should that stop us from writing about R+R = Now? Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah stands out even among such a star-studded group — and it’s not just because of the tiger tail wrapped around his head or his traffic-vest yellow shirt and shoes glowing under the black lights. His horn breathes life into a room and all of the bodies inside it. After just a few songs, the supergroup had charmed the crowd from their seats like cobras from baskets. Thursday’s full show at Roseland Theater is absolutely a can’t-miss. — Bradley W. Parks
Just outside the glow of Badu’s set at the Schnitz, I wandered wearily to Jack London Revue where West African guitarist Lionel Loueke was whipping up the medicine I sought: few words and mostly waves. Loueke’s virtuosic playing commands attention. So after snapping just a few frames, I gave it to him — perched in the back of the bar, where I rested my legs. — Bradley W. Parks