Maybe it was intentional, maybe it was a mistake, or maybe it was simply people “selling a lot of fake tickets online” and the Observatory accidentally honoring them (as one of the staff members told angry fans), but there were hundreds of folks who paid $60 or more to see Erykah Badu Wednesday night at the Observatory and couldn’t get in the door.
By a few minutes after 9 p.m. (roughly when I got there), the fire department was already there alongside the few cop cars that are usually in attendance. Minutes later, it became clear that the line to get into the venue was no longer moving.
After another 40 minutes or so, the security guards and other Observatory staff informed those waiting in line that the show was oversold and refunds were available at the ticket window. Of course, it would’ve been one thing if it was a handful of people, but it’s tough to tell a crowd of hundreds that none of them will get to see the concert they paid for.
Just as security explained for the dozenth time that no one else would be allowed in, I called upon a little luck and a lot of OC Weekly Music Editor Nate Jackson’s magic to be able to see the show. Upon finally getting into the main room of the Observatory around 10:20, Badu’s set had already begun, but there was still plenty left to see.
In what is best described as more of a spiritual performance than a concert, Badu showed off everything from improvised versions of some of her most famous songs and entertaining dance moves to smooth freestyles and spirited monologues about everything from war to religion to furthering society.
“They just informed me in my dressing room that someone won the Powerball,” Badu said following “I Want You” and “Next Lifetime.” “They ain’t giving no one a billion dollars,” Badu continued, listing off a host of taxes the winner would have to pay (including the “O.J. Simpson tax,” which got a laugh out of the crowd). The singer then joked that if she were to win the enormous jackpot, she’d pay off all of her student loans and then buy everyone in the room a drink with the little money she had left.
For the first time since I’d set foot in the Santa Ana concert hall on Wednesday night, the crowd had something anthemic they could sing along to when Badu restarted her set with “I’ll Call U Back.” The crowd as a whole was certainly excited and supportive of Badu’s performance, although few sang along to more than the most well-known songs and some seemed like they didn’t even know what they were going to see. After all, hipsters will go see anyone if it gets them a little street cred and some cool points. “Time’s A Wastin'” was yet another example of an applauded but underappreciated tune by the artist.
For the second half of the night, things got a little more about spirituality than dancing, although there was still plenty of both left to be had in the venue. “Some people say there’s a messiah coming back to sing us a song, but there is more than one. But only one,because it is us.”
As Badu continued to explain that we are all different versions of each other and all part of a divine universe, some of the crowd became restless, One fan asked Badu if she was a Christian, at which point the soulful songbird belted out “The Healer” in response to him.
The later the night got, the more one thing became apparent: Erykah Badu takes no prisoners when it comes to doing her own thing. Wearing a massive captain’s hat over her butt-length mane. with ornate rings and bracelets accenting what appeared to be a cut-off hoodie (almost Bill Belichick-esque) and bright multi-colored pants, Badu’s appearance matched her larger-than-life presence for every second she was on the Observatory’s stage.
Badu’s next monologue (“Like Jay Leno,” as she described it) covered the occupation and military takeover of land, which earned many cheers from the diverse crowd when she cried “This is Mexico!” Eventually, Badu got around to explaining that the next song (“Soldier”) was inspired by a documentary she’d watched, The Fourth World War.
Without a doubt, the biggest excitement of the night was for one of Badu’s classics, “Tyrone,” but “Back in the Day” still got its fair share of love from the potheads in the crowd. Badu certainly sounded excellent through the majority of her tracks, but it was ones like “Otherside of the Game” where she got to display the range of her power and emotion where the renowned performer really shone.
Once Badu got to “Hello” at about 11:40, a handful of audience members began to clear out for fear of their Thursday morning alarms, but most stayed through the tune and the monologue that followed. Badu encouraged helping less fortunate children learn to do things like code, rhymed “Everybody grows at their own pace. Best thing about this shit is it’s not a race,” and then thanked everyone for becoming “one living, breathing organism” in the room together.
She then signed some autographs and took some photos with fans before returning to her spaceship or being lifted away by a heavenly light or however it is she chose to exit her powerful performance.