Saturday, March 24, 2001

It's bald under Badu's headwrap, pretty voice




By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        She'd be just like Billie Holiday, if Billie had shaved her head, stuck incense sticks in her mouth, strummed a guitar sitting on a bean bag chair, sang N.W.A. songs and praised Buddha.

        Well, maybe all Erykah Badu has in common with Lady Day is a sweet, instantly recognizable girlish voice. But it wasn't the voice so much as the various oddities that made her two-hour-plus performance at the Taft Theatre Friday night a memorable one.

        Ms. Badu certainly has her stage act together, and it's a good thing, because her pretty voice doesn't have much of anything interesting to sing. “Baduizm,” as she named one of her albums, might as well equate with the I'm-OK-I'm-OK self-righteousness and feel-goodisms spewing from most every song. Only in a few monologues, off-hand remarks and borrowed lyrics did the sold-out crowd get a taste of the non-solemn.

        Like the diva-in-training she is, Ms. Badu let her band repeat a intro riff for 10 minutes and her backup sing a chorus of “Badu, Badu, Badu's” for just as long before sauntering to the stage. Her trademark head-wrap was in place, and later removed to reveal the chrome dome.

        A good chunk of the selections favored Mama's Gun, her latest album, including ""Time's a Wastin',” “Didn't Cha Know,” ""My Life,” “Cleva,” ""Hey Sugah,” ""Kiss Me On My Neck,” ""Bag Lady,” ""Orange Moon,” and ""Green Eyes.” She worked through most rather indifferently, but the ballad "Orange Moon” was a torch-singer's moment, with Ms. Badu standing on a riser above the band, showered in — of course — orange lighting. “Green Eyes,” a piano-roll blues, proved she doesn't mind the Billie comparisons, because she sounded just like her.

        Her half-a-cover cover of N.W.A.'s “Gangsta Gangsta” drew laughs, as did both her monologue beginning and band-directing ending of a 20-plus minute version of ""Tyrone.”

        New-jack Musiq, second on the bill, was at times as offensively pretentious as his name, at other times just a dull soul man, as lame as his stab at a Marvin Gaye cover.

        Opener Talib Kweli was way better, coming through with spare beats and rapid flow of the East Coast variety. His occasional partner Hi—Tek, a Cincinnatian named Tony Cottrell, joined him on ""The Blast” from the duo's album Reflections Eternal.

       



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