Erykah Badu/St. Vincent with Moses Sumney
KCRW's World Festival
Though stylistically they might as well be apples and oranges, Erykah Badu and St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) still drop from the same alternative tree. The Dallas-bred women, more than a decade apart, push out from the confines of their respective genre-incinerating female stereotypes in the process. Their hit songs have never sold out at the expense of sonic and lyrical depth. This past Sunday night, everyone in attendance at the Hollywood Bowl got a major treat thanks to someone's brilliant idea put the two together on the same billing.
The much buzzed about Moses Sumney opened, starting as the sun was setting. Clad in a flowing black garment and wearing circular frames, he looked as if he just came from hanging out with Lisa Bonet at Hillman. His remarkable voice cascaded into the hills, weaving into complex, ethereal harmonies. The crowd was thicker by the time St. Vincent took to the stage.
With wiry black hair, pale skin and full-on Rocky Horror Picture Show make-up (this is a good thing) she opened with the distortedly poppy "Birth in Reverse." If you only know the Grammy winner from the radio, you will quickly discover she is a serious shredder. Still breaking in her pale blue Eddie Ball Signature guitar, she launched into a never-let-up set of fourteen songs from her near-decade long solo career.
"Erykah Badu!" The lady next to me shouted right before the NIN-like pulsations of "Rattlesnake" began. My bench-mate seems perplexed by St. Vincent.
Indeed, the enthusiasm for Badu is palpable. But looking out into the crowd, you see can see where the fringes of rock and the raw edge of soul come together. For the kids who are less bound by genre, the fusion sounds of both artists are one joyous sandbox to play in.
St. Vincent has a spacey "moon music" stage act. Two dancers in identical silver bodysuits moved to each song; often coordinating with the artist. Sharply avoiding camp, the performance art dance moves only served the transporting quality of her music.
During an interlude, she quoted Joan Didion and gave props to those who have "more courage to say you love something than hate it." Plowing ahead into the alien planet-like "Bring Me Your Loves" the slight Bjork aspects of her upper register were highlighted. Certain songs, like "Huey Newton" devolved into driving jam sessions with her multitalented back-up singer/guitarist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda.
If St. Vincent took us on a trip to a new planet, Erykah Badu is here to make sure we stay on it. She's rejected the label, but Badu is is often seen as a Queen of neo-soul. And now, at just about 8:15 pm, the audience was brim-full, packed like soul-hungry sardines; waiting for her Majesty to take the stage. She came out dressed like a kind of Bolivian priestess, her two long braids flowing down from a tall hat.
"Can I catch you up on the past ten years? It won't take but a minute," she says before launching into a quasi-spoken word piece. The band is tight and her lyrics: poetic and rawly revealing.
Personal empowerment and evolving self-discovery are recurring themes for Badu. A good example is "20 Feet Tall" from her 2010 album "New Amerykah Part Two": You build a wall/a 20 foot wall/so I couldn't see/but if/ I get off my knees/I might recall/I'm 20 feet tall/
After simmering into "On N On" she asks "Y'all mind if we stay with Baduizm 1997?" Of course, we don't mind. We are now her up-close companions on this voyage. The monitor sometimes cuts to trippy videos and a familiar sweet odor lingers in the air.
On "Cleva" an ode to the intelligent, yet imperfect woman, Badu's honey-dipped voice takes on and added poignance. "I'm alright with me" she chants. Now comfortable in overalls, she ended with an insanely fun rendition of "Tyrone"–her cutting takedown of a subpar man that everyone knows the lyrics to. But when the audience didn't come into the chorus right, we were schooled. Los Angeles needs to "get its shit together" she laughed, making a show of stopping before leading us back in.
Suddenly, we were back on the home planet. There wasn't room for an encore, Badu had to dash off to a post-show at The Regent. And St. Vincent? She could be anywhere by now.