See more photos in Timothy Norris' photo gallery “Raphael Saadiq @ The Music Box.”
WHAT: Raphael Saadiq, Quadron
WHERE: The Music Box
Raphael Saadiq gets lazy writing lyrics sometimes. Last night at The Music Box, after spinning in circles while his band and singers provided a break-it-down backdrop, he snapped into the Tony! Toni! Toné! classic, “Just Me and You.” Stopping after a couple of choruses, he asked the sold-out crowd, “Who knows the real lyrics?” About as many as were in the audience at Saadiq's 2008 VH1 Soul Stage performance, where he explained he'd used the members of New Edition for the “don't worry 'bout Ricky, don't worry 'bout Michael, don't worry 'bout Bobby, baby” hook.
So he's a little lazy with his concert adlibs, too–who cares, when a performer with a twenty-plus-year career perspires through an hour and forty-five minute set and two suit coats?
Before Saadiq took the stage, electrified soul duo Quadron's Coco, sans producer Robin Hannibal, charmed its pants off. Stepping out of her heels early (to the sure envy of the many women who were six-inch-stilettoed), she sang the 1960s-styled “Pressure,” as well as a slowed remix of “Simili Life” that strengthens its reflective lyrics. Coco's interludes were sweet and earnest; she is, as her gold glitter body lotion and the funky ode “Jeans” attest, young. She didn't command the stage as she's done in the past, but she has plenty more shows ahead of her to grow into the great big presence sensed before.
In an olive green suit, black turtleneck, and signature thick-rimmed glasses, Raphael Saadiq bounded out and into “Heart Attack's” Motown choreography so vigorously his backup singers began glistening at the song's opening cues. Not that a little sweat slowed anybody's rock-n-roll: The entire outfit subsequently leapt into the title track of Saadiq's forthcoming album, Stone Rollin', and didn't stop its hot pursuit until the curtain dropped almost two hours later.
Saadiq's first act character, modeled after The Influences (“I think y'all know what kind of bands I liked when I first started making music–they're all dead”), performed much of 2008's The Way I See It. The horn section shouted a jubilant, too short version of “100 Yard Dash”; Saadiq coalesced the women into an only slightly more restrained Ed Sullivan audience of girls when he leaned over the crowd and lip-synched verses of “Sure Hope You Mean It.”
One of his backup singers took over briefly, and Saadiq reemerged in a black tux and white buttondown with floppy French cuffs. Act Two was underway, with Saadiq now playing The Influencer–himself. Eyes closed, electric guitar in hand, he threw himself into “Good Man,” a knife-twisting, 1970s-singed single from the new album.
But then: “How far you wanna go back?” Judging from the two-stepping that broke out as the band tucked into Lucy Pearl's “Dance Tonight,” the audience wanted to go all the way.
“I don't usually play these songs in other countries, but since I'm in this country …” Saadiq trailed off, grinning and staring into the crowd as if he kept seeing someone he knew. Rare for an artist not only to play every single one of the hits he's been singing since he began touring, but also play as though he really still loves them. Saadiq did just that. He teased with multiple false starts in “(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow,” handed over “Anniversary's” chorus to the crowd, and joked for people to “please stop tweeting me that I lied; that's so corny!” before “It Never Rains in Southern California” (we told you).
“I like the music a little more than writing lyrics, 'cause I did music first,” he offered. Ah. The heart of Raphael Saadiq's soul.