Concert Review: The Roots, Erykah Badu at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, 5/29/08
The Roots ''anointed'' Erykah Badu's stage with its usual liveliness at the Fabulous Fox Theater Thursday night, and their first playful, frenetic set nicely counterbalanced the Fox's grandeur and subdued (but responsive) crowd.
The theater's majestic lobby had earlier teemed with older well-dressed couples and groups of young women, holding drinks and lining up to take their picture at a prom-like setup -- complete with a professional portrait photographer at the entrance and a canvas of Badu's new album artwork as a backdrop.
One of the pleasures of the Roots' versatility is its dynamic with particular audiences. Even though the classic ''You Got Me'' was a repeat from its show a month ago at Webster University -- where the group played to a heavily college-aged audience -- its performance last night changed.
The song was faster, dreamier and escalated to magnificence when Kirk Douglas (Captain Kirk) took the stage, and eerily and exactly mimicked the sound of his guitar with staccato vocals, which delightfully incorporated the melody to a song that had earlier played in the Fox's lobby before the show: The Sound of Music's ''Favorite Things.'' This choice was met with laughter and raucous shouts from the audience, who by then had predictably succumbed to the Roots' dynamism.
The Roots' set was followed by a fifteen-minute intermission, after which Erykah Badu appeared, in a sudden beam of light (and to a standing ovation), bent over an Apple laptop on an otherwise darkened stage.
Badu wore a short, layered black dress; thick, ragged tights; and stupendously high heels. Her physical appearance, incidentally, has been perfectly described in the New Yorker's ''Monarch'' by Sasha Frere-Jones:
''She was rail thin, with a wide face and terrifyingly subtle and balanced facial geometry. Imagine the good monarch from a desert planet, the one you'd consult for wisdom just as your universe-saving mission started falling apart.''
Her otherworldly beauty, enhanced by bizarre stage makeup (her left eye had inches-long eyelashes and was edged with blue-black face paint) perfectly suited her opening song, ''The Healer (Hip Hop),'' which she began by playing chords on a tiny synth keyboard by her laptop.
When she later used a synthetic snare drum to introduce ''My People'' to an enraptured audience, I was reminded of Badu's earlier comment about hip-hop's universal appeal, which she defines as ''the kick in the snare.'' After ''The Healer,'' nearly all her songs were introduced by a period of darkness, followed by a high-pitched noise resembling an alarm. ''Twinkle" featured a glorious guitar solo, and when Erykah dipped into Baduizm with ''On and On,'' it probably drew the largest audience response of the night.
This song was followed by a period of darkness, Erykah at the laptop, and then a lonely, unexpected sound: a riff of Lightnin' Hopkins singing ''Black Ghost Blues,'' which segued into something even lonelier: ''Time's a Wastin,''' from Mama's Gun. With the ghosts of blues hovering overhead, Badu was almost too good to bear.