From landmark debut Baduizm — which helped defined the neo-soul movement — to the more recent electronic and hip-hop inspired material created with producers Madlib, 9th Wonder and Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu has had many styles over her 15-year career. But if one thing has remained consistent, it's that her approach to songwriting is always different from everyone else in R&B. This one of the main reasons her fans still turn out to see her live, as they did in droves Thursday night at the Wiltern.
Most fans will agree that her second album Mama's Gun marked a turning point, after her interest in hip-hop sampling surged during the recording process, thanks to the late J Dilla. It was certainly Badu's “Beatles On Acid” moment; last night, however, her most recent collaboration with Flying Lotus was often referenced.
Along with her new band the Cannabinoids — consisting largely of hip-hop and R&B producers — Badu has been working with Lotus for the past year. The two met through her longtime touring bassist Thundercat, who opened the show last night with an electrifying 30 minute set of spaced out funk. Reinvigorating the modern jazz scene with his recent album The Golden Age of Apocalypse, he brought along an unbridled zest with his performance. He kicked things off with an extended version of “Daylight”, and broke into a three minute solo shortly afterwards, showing off his lightning fast hands developed from years on the road with punk band Suicidal Tendencies.
Badu arrived on stage an hour after her scheduled set time, introducing the members of the Cannabinoids individually, which consisted of keyboard players, DJ's and knob-twiddlers. She later performed tracks like “Apple Tree”, “Danger” and “On & On” that the members had helped produce throughout her career. Her voice carried through the venue with the same force as her six-piece bass-heavy backup. She offered up a retrospective of her career, along with a preview of some engaging new material, which she said would be released next year.
The amount of ground she covered in an hour and a half was incredible, though it soon became apparent that she just wasn't as interested in playing her older songs. “Tyrone” and “Love Of My Life” were, to her fans' disappointment, sped up or cut short. It's clear that Badu is simply on a different frequency altogether, one that involves mystical realms of higher consciousness, rather than relationships and lovers quarrels.
This theory is supported even further by her new visual accompaniment, produced by local artist David Wexler, aka Strangeloop, who uses DMT and the psychedelic experience as his main inspiration. With Flying Lotus and Strangeloop helping Badu with the lifting, it was intriguing to hear the new, vintage pop-inspired “Breezy” premiered for an L.A. audience, who lovingly devoured the new Gnarls Barkley-sounding cut.
There were certainly a few highlights from her classic songs though, including a wonderful performance of “I Want You” near the halfway mark, and the closer, “Bag Lady”, which came complete with tone-deaf audience participation from fans who Badu leant the microphone to. There was never a lull, with most songs punctuated by an MPC jam session from Badu or one of the six members of her band. Oddly, these songs just didn't hold the same conviction as newer tracks like “Window Seat” or “The Healer”.
When Badu came on she was sipping tea in a Green peacoat and oversized sunglasses, but a half hour later she was stripped to nothing but a thin black dress. The show helped her maintain her status as one of the best live performers in the country, molding her voice perfectly to the acoustics of the room on nearly every song.
Personal Bias: I have a handful of Badu songs sent from ex-girlfriends sitting in my Spotify Inbox.
The Crowd: One gentleman thought appropriate to wear an all white pimp suit, a fitting tribute to Patrice O'Neil's “Pit Bull” character from The Playa Hata's Ball.
Random Notebook Dump: Just saw someone Shazam Slum Village's “Fall In Love.” Their night was made before the headliner even went on.
Set list below:
On and On
Errbody Love Me (Rap interlude)
I Want You
Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)
Didn't Cha Know