Last Night: Raphael Saadiq at House of Blues

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.

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.

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”.

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.

Critics Notebook

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:
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.

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