Reviews > Shows
Erykah Badu in Toronto
Photo by Andrew Dubinsky
*Kool Haus *
Legendary R&B songstress and all-around badass Erykah Badu celebrated her birthday on Canadian soil this year. Announcing a Toronto date less than two weeks before it fell, the promoters of the show had it billed as a full-length live presentation of Badu’s seminal 1997 debut – Baduizm. Evidently unbeknownst to the performers, the event would only wind up being half as-advertised. While a full album was indeed played front-to-back, it was her sophomore effort Mama’s Gun that the audience was treated to. A simple miscommunication, as the two LPs were presented on alternating nights over the course of the brief tour. Nobody seemed to be complaining anyways.
”Penitentiary Philosophy” blasted its way out of the speakers, emphatically signaling the start of the show with punctuated funk finesse. Ms. Badu implored her elated followers to build a bridge together, cross it together, then burn it and never look back; heady figurative instructions for a Tuesday night at the “Kool Haus” (did Hans & Franz name this place?). The impossibly smooth bass-driven gait of “Didn’t Cha Know” followed, ensuring that nearly the entire room was shaking its collective money-maker by then. Holding her cards close to the vest up until that point, Badu revealed her show-stopping mettle during the hot combo of “My Life,” “…& On” and “Cleva” – gesticulating, rapping, and proudly carving her way through the meat of Mama’s Gun.
Basking in the essence of some of her most beloved material, Badu next brought a reworked mash-up of “Booty” and “Kiss Me On My Neck” – emphasizing perhaps the finest portion of the set with band interaction, and the knowing smile of mutual reward. Taking a page out of the book of James Brown, the Texan artiste then verbally directed her backing players through an on-the-fly arrangement of “A.D. 2000,” reveling in her ability to master the flow. Amongst the more low-key numbers on the second half of the record, the now-classic remix of “Bag Lady,” featuring Dr. Dre’s super-sexy “Xxxplosive” guitar sample, had the audience getting down and singing along. The extensive, album-closing “Green Eyes” suite appeared before anyone was ready to let go of these precious moments, and we were in to bonus time.
Taking a breather before the home stretch, Badu introduced her band, underscoring the presence of Rashad “Ringo” Smith – who played snippets of a few of his archetypal beat productions (Busta Rhymes’ “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check,” Biggie Smalls’ “One More Chance (Remix),” and finally LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It”). The Smith-produced “Bump It,” a highlight from 2003’s Worldwide Underground, was the first gratuitous cut of the night to appear – the love letter to soundboards and stereo equipment keeping things sultry, with a “Bonita Applebum” sitar tease thrown in for good measure.
After a crowd-pleasing run through “Love of My Life,” Badu spent the final few minutes of her time in Toronto in full embodiment of her spiritual-street-diva persona. The Baduizm standout “Other Side of the Game,” and its thematic sequel “Danger,” told the stories of women caught up – financially and familially – in the drug game. Where the former examined the enchantment of falling in love with a criminal and the uncertain prospect of motherhood within that scenario, the latter saw Badu playing the role of loyal and unflinching co-conspirator. The ability to balance her lady-like and gangster sides has been a hallmark of Badu’s unfolding legacy, and her parting shots via these two songs put a perfect bow on the proceedings. With her gifts generously shared as though it had been a birthday for everyone in the room, Badu blew Toronto a kiss, and said goodnight.
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