Friday, March 13, 2009
Raphael Saadiq, Park West (Chicago), March 12, 2009
Nearing the end of his 70 minute set at Park West, Raphael Saadiq took the time during an instrumental breakdown, to make a little speech about the music that he plays. His 2008 release, The Way I See It has been praised and tagged as a retro item. But Saadiq explained that what he's doing isn't retro -- he's been playing this music since he was 7 years old (that's 35 years, folks
!). He described himself as a running back, whose offensive line included Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Eddie Kendricks and other soul legends.
And Saadiq's point is well taken. Ever since he arrived on the scene fronting Tony! Toni! Tone! in the late '80s, he has always been a purveyor of classic R & B.
His love and knowledge of R & B was evident in the expert show that he put on. Augmented by a six-piece band (bass, guitar, drums, keys and horns) and two back up singers, all decked out in dress shirts and ties, Saadiq brought the soul revue into the 21st Century. He was particularly debonair, in his gold suit. Saadiq and his backing vocalists (one male and one female) executed choreographed dance moves that brought back memories of The Temptations and other groups from the Motown school.
The band started things off with an instrumental version of "Aquarius" (from Hair). The band then kicked into "Keep Marchin'", and the show took off immediately. Saadiq has so thoroughly absorbed so many influences that rarely are his individual songs derivative. I hear bits of Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, James Brown, Motown, Sam Cooke and others, but never to the point where they overwhelm the song.
And Saadiq still sings with a sunny boyish tenor that isn't powerful, but is so expressive. His phrasing and timing are so good and he's even found a way to sound like a credible lover man.
While the show centered around his newer material, there was a lengthy medley where he hit on songs from throughout his career, including some of the songs he's written for other artists. That 15 minute stretch was extremely impressive.
The set had a great flow to it, as he mixed pure R & B work outs with simmering funk and creamy ballads. I must admit that I came into this show cold. I went because of raves from Anna (Tallboy Records) Borg and Shawn Campbell, the president of the Chicago Independent Radio Project. Therefore, I can't ID many songs, though I bought a CD at the merch table.
And can say that his band was so good, especially the rhythm section. This is particularly evident comparing the recorded version of the slinky "Let's Take a Walk" with the powerhouse live performance, where the drummer gave the song twice the power.
Because the set was so well balanced, the audience got more involved with each minute. The 70 minute set was followed by a 20 minute encore, highlighted by the New Orleans inspired "Big Easy".
The near sell out crowd left the venue floating. I was really heartened by the crowd, as it showed that classic soul music could survive and thrive in this modern era. I don't mean that as a knock on contemporary R & B -- since the late '80s, R & B has struggled with relevance in the hip-hip era, and this has resulted in some good things and some bad. R & B is still moving forward. But we need artists like Saadiq to keep reminding us where it comes from and why we should celebrate that.