Live Review: Erykah Badu Unleashes Cerebral Funk at The Warfield
Better than: Badu's engaging performance at Outside Lands back in August.
Erykah Badu is a skilled recording artist, but she flourishes and thrives on stage. The live setting is also where the depth of her musical involvement is revealed to be total. She isn't a diminutive chanteuse who just flowers around the microphone. On Friday at the Warfield, Badu became an integral part of her band, the Cannabinoids, and frequently flipped between her laptop and a sequencer to create beats on the fly.
Earlier in the week, we had wondered what awesome wig or head piece she'd be rocking, and she chose a relatively modest black ponytail-cozy sort of number. Badu came out in a beautifully mod green coat and oversized frames that she soon shed to reveal a flowy, asymmetric top and skirt that showed nothing but her consummate grace.
It was the more unfamiliar moments -- the teases of new material from her next album, which she said will come out next year, and flashes of rhythms created on the spot -- that shined most on Friday, although the ladies on the main floor sang loudly and proudly along with Badu's older offerings. Or they tried to, at least; tunes that were normally her most recognizable, like "Apple Tree" and "On & On," were rearranged, pitch-shifted, and thrown in new directions. "Danger" and "Soldier" got big responses, but we were surprised that so many dudes sang along to "Tyrone," a song about a useless man.
"San Francisco, I don't know if I hit the right notes today," Badu sang toward the end, letting the notes soar to her upper register as the cheers rose. A mischievous smile crept across her face. "But I don't give a fuck!"
The show went on past midnight, but you wouldn't have known it by Badu's energy level and enthusiasm. At the end, though, she revealed one of her secrets: "[You] make a bitch drink coffee!"
Her song "Bag Lady" segued into a tribute to the late Nate Dogg, featuring his verse from Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)." She sang Nate's particularly raw parts with as much ladylike sweetness as she holds. And for a finale, Badu's beautiful and wistful "See You Next Lifetime" hit just the right note.
Personal bias: Erykah Badu is a bad bitch, in my opinion. And that's not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good.
Random detail: There was a giant replica of a brain connected to the table where her sequencer rested, and she'd caress it every once in a while.
By the way: Erykah Badu also delivers babies!