Erykah Badu Live At 02 Brixton Academy | Gig Review

For many Erykah Badu fans, Ms Wright can do no wrong. The songstress, rightfully heralded by many as an icon within modern-day soul, seemed aware of this when taking the stage in London’s Brixton Academy on Saturday evening, resulting in a complacent and flawed set.

Anticipating Erykah’s lateness, I shuffled through disgruntled and expectant fans to find a spot in the crowded Brixton Academy minutes from 10pm. The band hit the stage almost fifteen minutes before Erykah and for a while the crowd – many of whom have been waiting for nearly 3 hours without a support act – seem even further riled.

Any irritation was replaced swiftly by adoration when Ms Badu gracefully stepped onstage 45 minutes later than billed. The band quietened as Badu, dressed in a colourful cloak, African skirt and top hat spread her arms in an eagle-like manner taking in her audience, who served her with a rapturous applause.

Vocally brilliant, Badu’s voice danced between octaves – from her raspy mid-range to piercingly high pitch with ease. As expected, Badu’s penchant for all things musically eclectic was brought to life onstage as the Analogue Girl in a Digital World explored many of the swarthy, electronic sounds on her Nu Amerykah series, exhibited her love for funk and hip hop, and made a live beat on a sampling machine. And of course, her command of the stage is effortless, almost lackadaisical.

However, her voice nor her beautifully diverse musical palette wasn’t enough to make me truly connect with her performance. For much of the show, I felt detached – feeling not like a participant of a live show but as if, perhaps, I was half-watching at home.

I expected her to showcase mainly songs from her latest record, Nu Amerykah Part II: Return Of The Ankh – however the arrangement of the songs failed to maintain a consistent vibe and Badu rushed through crowd-pleasing classics such as “On & On” and “Apple Tree”, and totally omitted others.

Time spent on unnecessary costume changes (the stage went black as she removed several layers of clothing throughout the show) and drawn-out instrumental breakdowns could’ve been used to either satisfy the audience’s thirst for classic Erykah or bring the old and new material together more cohesively. The only exception to this was the deft segue of the “You Lovin Me” interlude from Nu Amerykah Part II to “Next Lifetime”.

I’m still undecided on the impact this had to her performance, but Badu’s band and backing singers, though talented, were relatively bland did little to add an interesting dynamic to the show – something I didn’t recognise the importance of until Saturday night. However, I’d be unsurprised if her lacklustre band were purposely so in order to place the focus solely on the songstress.

It was clear that Erykah Badu – affectionately dubbed Queen Erykah by me – was aware of her impact and importance not only within soul music, but on her audience before her. For this reason, many of Erykah’s movements felt a little self-indulgent; I believe it is this awareness that made Badu’s performance feel a little complacent.

–Tahirah Edwards Byfield

Photography by Neil Raja for SoulCulture.

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