Erykah Badu w/ The Roots / May 30, 2008 / Chicago, Il (The Chicago Theatre)
Like many a pop eccentric before her, from Prince to Bjork to Nina Simone, Erykah Badu isn't half as crazy as she sometimes seems.Like many a pop eccentric before her, from Prince to Bjork to Nina Simone, Erykah Badu isn't half as crazy as she sometimes seems. Yes, she spent a lot of time on stage at the Chicago Theatre Friday night (the first of two shows) hunched over a laptop, slouched in a chair or, later, clad in a leotard for an extended solo jazz dance routine.
But if Badu were nuts, the sold out crowd would have been on its collective butt.
Instead, Badu had her fans on their feet in a near perpetual state of ovation, elated at the way she orchestrated seamless shifts from funk to jazz, soul to rock, hip-hop to R&B, all while maintaining the guise of an extraterrestrial musical ambassador sent down to earth to teach us how to move.
If there was a downside to the space cadet routine, it's that Badu did often come off somewhat aloof. Her latest album, "New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)," is full of militant grooves and revolutionary slogans, but how seriously can you take a messenger who spends one minutes talking about the plight of the Zapatistas and the next rolling around with several bouncing pilates balls?
That contradiction accounts for at least some of Badu's appeal, however. No cookie-cutter star, let alone a mere diva, Badu (as she stated several times herself) is an artist, keenly aware of the possibilities of pop and her role keeping it real in an age of fleeting surface pleasures. Whether crooning "Orange Moon" or "Green Eyes," getting weird with "Twinkle," or revisiting "On & On" and "Appletree," Badu proved the master of ceremonies in the truest sense, and her fans were fortunate to be there as guests.
Opening though opening is almost too weak a word in this case were Philly's redoubtable Roots. No one needs a reminder of this band's prowess, but one senses they relish any opportunity to show off for potential new fans. In this case, that meant a frantic set that veered from Curtis Mayfield to Wu-Tang Clan, The Incredible Bongo Band to Afrika Bambaataa, and of course tracks like "You Got Me" and "The Next Movement" from the group's rapidly expanding but still underappreciated back catalog.