Neo-soul, loved by locals for its references to vintage R&B and Gamble & Huff's The Sound of Philadelphia, eventually lost its luster in the early millennium. Yet on Saturday, in Badu's hands (and that of her musician/producers, the Cannabinoids), the bits of Baduizm they tackled sounded freshly alluring as her vocal tics and flicks were dipped in a warm electronic bath and subtly tricky rhythms.
Dressed in a high headwrap that made her look like an African queen with a Marie Antoinette wig, the vocalist hit the stage to her background vocalists' insistent "Badu, Badu, Badu."
Far beyond her usual descriptive tag of "this generation's Billie Holiday," Badu toyed jazzily with "Rimshot" and its electric piano's elegance as though she were sailing into space. Not unlike her new electro track, "Heaven for the Sinner," and parts of Worldwide Underground that she played close to midnight, there was a cool herky-jerkiness to her take on "Certainly" and its slow, slurry soul. Her "Apple Tree" cleverly incorporated her jittering 2012 remix and the original's sweet doo-wop bounce.
Then there was "On & On." Though the band went on a mad tangent of choppy piano rhythms, synth-slaps, and conga rolls, Badu came up with some free-form vocal riffs ("on and on and on and on / my cipher keeps moving like a rollin' stone / on and on and on and on / all night 'till the break of dawn") while keeping the haunting tune's melodic heft.
Fluid and powerful, you can't help but breathlessly await Badu's next move.