Erykah Badu: Live Last Night

badu

Live Last Night

By Sarah Godfrey

For some artists, a summertime show offers the chance to perform breezy, feel-good hits to a friendly crowd fortified by booze and sunshine. For Erykah Badu, a summer concert is an opportunity to don a vinyl catsuit, rail about the government, and freak a guy playing the pan flute.

Badu took a break from cooking up weird stuff in the studio to cook up weird stuff on stage as the headliner for the Summertime Spirit Festival at Merriweather Post Pavillion on Saturday night. The singer didn't mention her eagerly anticipated album "New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh," which she's currently recording, but it didn't matter -- her previously released tracks were remixed, rearranged and reworked so much as to sound like brand new material.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The singer gets more thrillingly bizarre and experimental with each album, and it's wonderful that she can fill enormous venues with fans receptive to music that's so strange. But looking out over a packed pavilion filled with excited concertgoers, Badu lamented that she hates being the last performer at music festivals because "everybody else done already sucked up all the juice."

Not true in this case -- folks had plenty of energy for her, even though the opening acts did their best to sap it. Although valiant efforts were put forth by Foreign Exchange and Chrisette Michele, Chuck Brown was the first performer of the night to risk wearing out the crowd early. The Godfather of Go-Go not only performed his own classics, including "Run Joe" and "Bustin' Loose," but brought the legendary Little Benny to the stage for an exhilarating old school go-go party.

Raphael Saadiq had less luck moving the crowd. Tracks such as "100 Yard Dash" and "Never Give You Up" from his gorgeous late-'60s-inspired soul disc "The Way I See It" would sound lovely in a smaller venue, but some of their nuance was lost when broadcast to thousands of people at high volume. Saadiq worked hard, but even when he broke out hits from his former groups Tony! Toni! Toné! ("Anniversary," "It Never Rains [In Southern California]) and Lucy Pearl ("Dance Tonight"), he barely got a rise out of the audience.

Badu, on the other hand, hit the stage, pretended to be a robot for several minutes, and immediately killed. Go figure. As sweeping aerial shots of landscapes scrolled behind her, Badu opened with "The Healer," from "New Amerykah, Pt. 1," which ran into the autobiographical "Me." She got appreciative laughter when she changed the lyric "Had two babies/Different dudes," to "Had three babies/Different dudes," to reflect the February birth of her daughter, Mars, with rapper Jay Electronica.

As usual, Badu refused to stick with album versions of her songs: "Next Lifetime" was mixed with "Who Can I Run To?" and "Bag Lady" got a reggae treatment. But the most unusual and brilliant renditions were a version of "Didn't Cha Know," from 2000's "Mama's Gun," which melted down into an inspirational ballad, and an almost unrecognizable version of Badu's 1997 breakout hit "On & On," which featured a little scat, a little beatbox, and a flute player blowing out the melody of "Planet Rock," all layered over a stammering electronic track, showing that the analog girl has caught up to the digital world.

By David Malitz |  August 9, 2009; 7:17 PM ET Live Last Night
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