I WAS THERE . . . Erykah Badu @ Governor’s Island, 8/4/09

Photos by Kenneth Joachim

Wind whipped across my face as I bounced, the free Water Taxi skimming over a dark bay on a cloudless night illuminated by a bright pregnant moon. Battery Park skyline receded behind me, Brooklyn revealing itself as we plunged south the short distance to Governor’s Isle. Suddenly I was there, the quiet of the empty island, returned to the use of the people of New York only in 2003, and was impressed with the glorious views of Manhattan’s tip and Brooklyn’s expansive shoreline.

Arriving mere moments before Erykah Badu came out, I really didn’t know what to expect, but as the crowd of some 3,000 chilled out fans got revved up by a DJ spinning remixes of Michael Jackson favorites I felt the love in the air and knew I was in for something special.

Stalking in behind the scenes, her back up singers standing statuesque as the six piece band grooved, Badu’s movements were vaguely robotic, measured, but melting into smooth sinuous bumps as she began to emote.

Badu’s presence exuded that of a ringmaster; the impossibly tall top hat and signature knit head wrap underneath, well fitting black jacket, patent leather skin tight pants, with seven inch heels to match that allowed bright yellow outer soles to flash as she stepped across the stage. Her body was effortlessly synchronized, as if she conducted the music through her.

Conduct she did; energy and power flowing while she turned to an odd instrument set up to her left. The best description I can manage is an odd circular synthesizer from the future, programmed with drumbeats and percussion that could be induced to life at the touch of a button. But even more, she could sweep her hand over it like some shamaness’ looking glass, causing a crash of sound to spring forth.

Badu’s voice though was her deadliest weapon and most glorious asset; alternatively caressing and exploding over the crowd, a finely tuned heavenly megaphone used to expand minds.

Though for the first few numbers her heavily made up face was obscured by heavy shades, she finally revealed her face to the crowd of true believers. They poured love upon her, exalting in her presence, style and artistry, singing lyrics back to her, dancing and whooping for joy.

The majority of the show was a mellow groove, only a few faster tempo songs allowing us to boogie down to the ground, most notably a sped up version of “Apple Tree.” The showstopper was an extended rendition of “Back in the Day,” evoking nostalgic memories as she conjured clouds of emotion on the stage with her pointed poses. We were enchanted and she was honesty and soul laid bare. Get yer ass to a Badu show. Puff.

Kenneth Joachim

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