Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Badu takes time to give Bogart's her total act

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Erykah Badu's show at Bogart's Sunday night was like the evening's snowstorm. You didn't know if either would ever end.

Badu, the R&B singer with a voice like Billie Holiday and a mystical outlook on the here and now, did a sprawling, nonstop two-hour-and-45-minute show that had crucial moments amid several passages of filler. Edited here and there, it would have been an incredible two-hour set. Instead, it was something a little longer and a little less special for it.

But to expect a concise performance out of the Dallas-based singer is to not know what she's about. She has a lot to share with her audience: her turntable handiwork and her drum-machine skills, drop-in snippets of classic soul and rap recordings and live-band takes on N.W.A. There was even the performance by some anonymous poet, plus Badu's own political musings.

The crowd loved it all. The show was sold-out at 30 bucks a head, and tickets were gone before the day of the show. Badu could have done a theater like the Taft, where she played almost two years ago, but apparently it was her decision to play a smaller room.

Badu is a vivid personality, which was even more evident in the smaller confines. Badu's spirit and her band's skills made the show go and made the filler bearable. Backed by drums, percussion, flute, bass and keyboards, Badu, with her easy vocal manner, was the fulcrum on which the band's deep-bass grooves and flute-tinted melodies balanced. She floated between the low end and the high like hip-hop's answer to Fulfillingness' First Finale-era Stevie Wonder.

Although Badu has an instantly recognizable voice, it's not all about her singing. Either one of the two backup girl singers could belt it out with her note-for-note, as evidenced by the trio's soaring vocals on "No Love."

But nobody on that stage (and few people in pop music) has her style. She walked to her mike like a runway model at a Black Panther fashion show, sporting a black trench coat, a lit incense stick in her mouth, and an Afro the size of a small breakaway Baltic republic.

The 'fro looked authentic. It didn't shift or fall off during her energetic act. But, as Biz Markie might note, she was like Patti LaBelle, singing with a wig on. About an hour into the show she ripped it off, revealing a closely cropped 'do.

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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