Bigger Than Religion: Erykah Badu Returns to Baptize the Bay Area (B.Getz on L4LM)
The quirky singer’s patented modus operandi of taking her time, building the anticipation to an uncomfortably fevered pitch, the lights dimmed and Badu crooned “U Caint Use My Phone” from the wings, before her voice gave way to RC & the Gritz. Badu’s band took the stage for a twenty-minute groove session, spearheaded by musical director/keyboardist RC Williams and the driving rhythms of Cleon Edwards. Badu emerged from the shadows singing “Hello Hello”, and the slow, ethereal number brought the crowd’s energy to focused attention. Erykah continued to keep it mellow, channeling her inner chanteuse on “Out of My Mind, Just in Time” before unveiling an elegant composition “Time’s a Wastin’” (Mama’s Gun), carefully lighting the fuse. The tension was thick and the vibe was sky high, but everyone in the building was anxious get loose.
Lo-Down Loretta Brown kicked down a set that heavily revisited and re-imagined landmark debut LP Baduizm, offering a spirited run through “On & On” that was chased with a sassy, fiery reprise “…& On” (Mama’s Gun). The joyful adventure in song included celebrated Baduizm hits “Apple Tree” and encore “Next Lifetime”, but she peppered her performance with beloved cuts from Worldwide Underground, New Amerykah Pts 1 & 2, U Caint Use My Phone. Early-set highlights included a massive takes on the hip-hop homage “Love of My Life” and cherished “Didn’t Cha Know,” no matter what Erykah may have sang, there was nary a wrong turn made this evening. Clad in several different outfits throughout the evening, adorned with large hats, and platform stilettos, her lioness mane blowing back at her band, Badu held the Warfield in the palm of her hand from the moment she set foot on the stage.
Her setlist was interspersed with a couple funk-lovin’ covers, as Yarbrough & Peoples “Don’t Stop the Music” made a return appearance after being well received at her Valentine’s Day show at The Armory. One surprise saw Badu pick an unsuspecting fan out of the first few rows and tell her she was going to give her a special blessing; the singer crouched down in front of her and led her band into the undeniably smooth “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)”, the timeless and profane Snoop Doggy Doggclassic found on his 1993 debut LP Doggystyle. This moment proved unforgettable, as Badu pantomimed fellatio with the microphone, and the entire Warfield Theater melted in deafening, jubilant celebration.
The magical empress also was sure to deliver several whimsical detours in banter; Fat Belly Bella made sure to let the audience know it was time to light up. This being Northern California and all, the people obliged en masse. Badu responded with a positively filthy run through “Back in the Day (Puff)”, Worldwide Underground’s bouncy ode to drivin’ around, blastin’ tunes, and blazin’ trees. Later came another surprise; after mesmerizing with an empowering “The Healer” (New Amerykah Pt.1: 4th World War), Badu invited old friend Yaasin Bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def) to the stage for a lazy-eyed freestyle atop “The Healer” and a capella, before RC & the Gritz led the squad into a soaring rendition of the rapper’s classic anthem “Umi Says”. The audience howled into the heavens as Bey implored us to shine our light, and to not to be afraid.
After midnight, Badu Oblongata returned to the stage for a thrilling encore, jumping into the audience and mixing it up with fans who (respectfully and safely) swarmed her, in shock and awe of this artist’s unconventional displays of affection. Beginning with the iconic bump of “Bag Lady”, Badu continued leading the seance for the still-enraptured masses. She delivered a passionate, priestly benediction between songs, imploring people to love and believe in themselves. Digging deep and delivering stripped down verses from “Honey” (I’ll make a b*tch drank coffee!), “Window Seat” and “20 Feet Tall”, Ms. Sarah Bellum showed and proved that at the end of the day, she’s (still) got the pipes, and still can connect with her audience as well as anyone in the game. Finishing up with Baduizm’s smash hit “Next Lifetime”, Erykah Badu once again displayed why she is among the greatest artists and live performers of her generation.