Last Night: Raphael Saadiq at the House of Blues
Better Than: Trying to fill up a car from the 60s with today's gas prices.
Download: Don't download shit, buy the damn album (The Way I See it)
Toss Raphael Saadiq's latest album, The Way I See It into any CD player and most people are quick to call it a throwback. Delicately places strings, Stax-esque soul claps and an over all retro-sexy, "grown-folks" vibe swoons and swirls in the echoed, analog bliss of every track. If you didn't know any better, you might think the former co-founder of Tony! Toni! Tone! decided to hit us with a full album of Stylistics covers.
But as this 5-foot-nothing seasoned soul veteran stood amongst a sardine-packed crowd in the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip doused in sweat, he made sure to get one thing straight. In a velvety, half-whispered tenor, Saadiq thanked the fans for making a leap forward with him and accepting the songs he has been dying to release for decades. To finally be able to see music "the way he sees it".
It was a busy Monday night in the windy valet station at HOB as rows of headlights swarmed past the entrance and anxious fans jumped in line, started their own lines and were quickly instructed to move to the back of the line they had just left. All in all, it was a generous mix of the mid-30s, neo-soul crowd, college youngins' (like myself), hand-holding couples and plenty of die-hard Tony! Toni! Tone! fans.
By the time the patchwork curtains parted, the ground floor was a buzz wondering who was going to step out as Saadiq's opening act. For some reason, every time I go to one of his shows, they never announce the opener beforehand. And to be honest, if any had told the crowd they would be watching an "experimental pop" group called Tha Boogie from Rancho Cucamonga, you probably would have had a lot of jaded L.A. fans waiting in their cars. But all questionable band names aside, Tha Boogie's three piece flurry of Janet Jackson-style choreography, bright colors and unshakable M.I.A. swagger carried an entertaining flair that was all together unexpected.
Fronted by fresh-faced vocalists Nu School, Korus and Lejin, Tha Boogie's energy had the kind of urgency that told the crowd, "we don't give fuck if you like us right now...you'll probably love us in a couple years anyway". Songs like "Go" and "Best Around" are driven by an 80's tinged, electro-pop slathered R&B sound with a cocky, new-age sense of entitlement that is sure to take them far...when they finally release a record.
But all the energy and interest of the revved up crowd was tested after Tha Boogie left the stage. In anticipation for Saadiq to go on, fans waited in in hot and sweaty crowd conditions for about an hour! It was pretty ridiculous. Even the DJ who played a steady line of old-school and 90s R&B classics must have been running out of crowd pleasing hits to play by 10:30 p.m. Boos from the crowd were slowly starting to mount until the lights finally dimmed at which point all the frustration quickly evaporated.
Within the first few bangs of bass and brass, it was clear that Saadiq's new/old sound would be brought out full tilt by a sharp-dressed band (minus the bass player who looked like a long lost member of the Strokes...great player though) sporting retro black suits with skinny-ties: a cross between the Nation of Islam and Men-in-Black. They opened to what sounded like a jammed-out version of the song "Aquarius" from Hair, everybody's favorite hippie stage play.
Raphael quickly emerged and proceeded to get the crowd clapping with some hits from The Way Isee It that included "Love that Girl" and "100 Yard Dash", two tracks that never fail to conjure up enough sunshiny doo-wop vibes to slap a smile on a corpse. Literally, it was that happy.
Saadiq also broke it down several times throughout his hour-and-a-half performance, crooning over tunes like "Oh Girl" and "Staying in Love" with a group of backing vocalists that added some soulful support to every splash chorus.
And then there were the REAL classics. Anyone who's every gone to a Saadiq show knows that his ass ain't getting off the stage without doing the hits that mad him famous. "Anniversary" and"Lay Your Head on My Pillow" are his bread and butter. He even through in a some great material from 2002's seminal classic Instant Vintage including a powerfully rocked out version of "Still Ray".
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It takes a lot to wrangle a packed crowd on a Monday, any one who's seen it poorly executed knows exactly how hard it is. But for guys like Saadiq, despite this being his first major label release in a while, it seems to come as naturally as a Motown baseline. People know they are getting something real. And whether it happens on a Monday or a Saturday, live music lovers can't get enough of him apparently. So in hopes that he continues to bring it, I'm sure most fans are looking forward to watch him shuffle back into town on the next tour.
Personal Bias: Even though some sliver of local pride is kicking me for liking the L.A. House of Blues better than our delightful Disney version, I have to say the the L.A. House of Blues IS better than ours.
Random Detail: I really enjoyed the horn section that played with Raphael last night. I recognize the Sax and Trumpet player from a Parliament show I went to months back.
By the Way: If by some slim chance you managed to rein in your ADD long enough to get through this entire review, I would just like to say THANK YOU and may the Buddha smile upon you and grant you good fortune.