Screengrab from YouTube, user XUrbanTV1
Saturday night, Erykah Badu transformed Chene Park into a musical forest, complete with 420-friendly visuals and kaleidoscopes of sound. Set to the backdrop of the Detroit River, blanketed with a cloud of smoke, and separated from Atwater Street by a man-made moat, the amphitheater felt more like an island oasis than a music venue — the perfect setting for Badu’s mystical presence.
Twenty-one years after the release of Baduizm, Badu has grown into a force of nature, the years of performing under here only refining her gritty, powerful vocals and skilled artistry. The show opened up with Badu’s virtuosic band, headed up by the legendary RC Williams, having a lengthy introductory jam session. The band, star-studded with hand-picked musicians from Badu’s native state of Texas, set the tone for the insane level of musicianship that lay ahead. After minutes — that felt like hours — of the band building tension and intrinsically chanting “Badu,” the high priestess of neo-soul appeared on stage, greeting us with a “Hello.”
The crowd’s mood instantly shifted when Badu came on stage, sending a wave of euphoria through the audience, as though her presence in itself was enough to get you high. At times, she was ensconced in a triangular beam of light, begging the question of whether it was an Illuminati reference, artistic choice, or an inside joke. Badu confirms later in her set when she strikes a pose and releases a high pitched cry, going on to say, “When I do that, it don’t
mean nothing. That ain’t no Illuminati shit.”
Illuminati or not, Badu’s superhuman powers showed through in her ability to hit every note impeccably and command the band with grace and poise. Though it’s obvious the band has spent thousands of hours rehearsing together, the set didn’t feel rigid and planned, but more like masterful improvisation, led by Badu as the maestro. Though she has performed these songs hundreds of time, each one was delivered with the emotion and flawlessness that had couples reaching for each other and introverts dancing like no one was watching. Even when Badu introduced “Can't Use My Phone
” by saying, “I’ll do this shit but I’m really sick of it,” she followed up with a stellar performance without a trace of spite or boredom.
Each song rolled by as hypnotizing and therapeutic as the one before it. Badu started to signal her exit saying, “I gotta wrap this up, they’re gonna kick me out of here.” As she finished up her set with her iconic ode to letting go “Bag Lady,”
the crowd slowly trickled away, the smoke lifted, and Chene Park was once again turned into the concrete pumpkin it had been before Ms. Badu graced it with her magical energy. It was midnight.
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