Photo by Giant Step
The best queens of R&B know the value of anticipation. It is to the audience's benefit, in a weird way, to wait. So much, it's part of Erykah Badu's legend status, that at this point waiting forher show, like I did on Saturday night, is like butterflies in your stomach before a second date. Excitement is the bread and butter to snack on, before she even steps on stage. That's a true star!
At her show, in the basement of a hotel on 58th street in New York, Erykah made us wait. It was a surprise show, a celebration for her forthcoming album New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh. It was after 1:30 AM, even, when her steely back-up singers and band set up on the stage. But when Erykah finally did show up on stage, dressed like a soulful Carmen San Diego in a stiff trench coat, and a grey beret, the crowd forgot their tired legs. She strolled on stage with sly ownership and comfort, slowly pouring and enjoying a glass of a water from a silver thermos she brought. It's little moments like that, not necessarily even musical, when you relish that Erykah is always in control, the pace is hers. When the beat got too much, she'd ask her band to pause the music and just let her sing. It's that voice, she knows, it's we all want.
She belted out hits, "On & On" and "Danger," with an off-the-cuff warmth. She still feels those early albums. She bends her songs well to fit the audience. It's fun to be at an Erykah show, fun in a different way than it is to listen to the bedroom music that she puts on her records. Her live rendition of J Dilla's "People," for example, was the call-and-response club song of your dreams. Now was one of the most inclusive moments of the night—a little block party of a song. Maybe "Bag Lady" though, was my favorite part: the perfect representation of Erykah's soft take on harder beats. A performance as danceable as it was suitable for smoke and patchouli.
I was exhausted enough after the show that I just went straight home and holed up in my room and skipped other Saturday night possibilities. Erykah fed me enough for one night. But as I sat, tired, listening to Erykah's music on record, it was so different from the Erykah I had just seen. Where she was all 2 AM drunk excitement at the show, she was a different type of late night star when I press play—a relaxed, soft artist that accompanied my exhaustion perfectly. I guess that's what makes her a true queen, a star for any occasion. --Alex Frank
EXTRA CREDIT: ERYKAH BADU'S THOUGHTS ON THE DJ