Modern mystical soul superstar Erykah Badu returned to London to play the Hammersmith Apollo last night in London as part of BluesFest 2012.
Support came in the form of up-and-coming folk and soul hybrid Lianne La Havas, who counts Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Prince among her rapidly growing fan base. She is fast becoming known for her frank lyrics and soaring vocal stylings, and although the supporting slot displayed Lianne’s more than capable musical talents, her obviously stiff stage presence belies her inexperience and newness to the scene.
Lianne La Havas will certainly learn a great deal from watching Ms. Badu in action, as the Queen of Nu Soul took to the stage (thirty minutes late of course), backed by an 11-man band, looking every inch the superstar. Without pausing for breath, she adjusted her striking orange hat as she smoothly launched into '20 Feet Tall', drawing out her impressive vocal talents over the laid-back tempo provided by the band.
From there the Texas-born singer moved onto the darker hip-hop inspired track 'The Healer' and 'My People' from her political concept album New Amerykah, Part 1: Fourth World War.
'On & On', which is undoubtedly the Grammy-award winner’s biggest track, was met with an excited reception from the audience, and it was surprising to hear such a crystal-clear and warm voice effortlessly permeate the packed-out Apollo. It’s also notable how Erykah’s music doesn’t seem to date, despite songs such as 'On & On' and 'Apple Tree' being released back in 1997.
Mid-way through the show Erykah displayed her drumming talents with an extended drum pad solo and jazz-infused scat singing, which was the only dreary part of the whole show, but as she sings in 'Apple Tree', "I work at pleasing me because I can’t please you." As an eccentric and particularly cerebral singer, and like fellow acclaimed Nu-Soul singer Lauryn Hill, Erykah clearly doesn’t feel like she has anything to prove and does what she wants, when she wants, even if that’s drumming for ten minutes.
With an impressive back catalogue of five hit albums, Badu fans were treated to songs spanning the full length of her career, including 'Umm Hmm' from New Amerykah, Part II: Return of the Ahnk, Baduizm’s 'Otherside Of The Game' and 'Love Of My Life', her outstanding collaboration with hip hop artist Common from the soundtrack to the film Brown Sugar.
Erykah kept her interaction with the audience to a minimum, preferring to focus on her music and let that do the talking for her. There was no mention of her recent upset with Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, after she slammed him on Twitter for releasing a video without her consent, which featured Erykah and her sister Nayrok naked for their duet 'The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face'. To the disappointment of many fans Erykah did not do an encore, but to her credit she sung exceptionally well throughout the hour and thirty-minute long show, squeezing a remarkable number of songs into her set, and with the strict curfew policies of the Apollo and Erykah’s late arrival, it was clear that an encore was never going to be on the cards.
Since rising to fame, Erykah has regularly astounded audiences with her untouchable vocals, conscious lyrics, and pioneering genre-blending music which has redefined the boundaries of soul, blues, hip hop and jazz. Seeing her live is surely a must for any Badu fan, although you can’t help but wish for a little more audience interaction from such a seasoned pro.