While Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are battling it out for Concert of the Year, Erykah Badu grooves in to take what I am now crowning as The Concert of the Summer. With velvety and spellbinding vocals, Ms. Badu proves she doesn’t need to be titled Queen when she has clearly come to reign as Mother Supreme.
As I made my way through the throngs of fans in Boston’s TD Garden, I was reminded of a clip from an interview that went viral on TikTok about a year ago. In it, Ms. Badu voices her frustration with lack of extraterrestrial contact. “I’m doing everything that you would possibly do to get abducted,” she laments. Judging by the tour’s entire aesthetic, it would seem that the songstress has stepped up her game. From the kaleidoscopic lights strobing in otherworldly patterns to the dizzying array of abstract Badu artwork flickering across the big screen to the fragrant smell of herbal medicine, I couldn’t help but feel like this was all an intergalactic hitchhiker’s signal for a lift from Earth.
As we settle in for a bit of a wait – the artist is famously known for never showing up on time – the band sets the tone for the night with a warm up set to “The Healer” while a hypnotic sphere vibrates in constant rotation on the screen. The vocalists take us to church with their own renditions of “20 Feet Tall” – their vocal prowess is worth the price of admission alone.
There’s a sudden shift in the atmospheric energy. The band’s rhythm picks up, becoming more chaotic as a lightning storm is displayed on screen. Out strides Ms. Badu in a tall black hat, long blocky feather coat and sea anemone-inspired bottoms made by up-and-coming fashion student Myah Hasbany. She sets the scene for the next two hours by introducing us to the “Unfollow Me” tour, noting that there is only one rule that needs to be adhered: “Stay the fuck out of other people’s business.” The crowd erupts and with that we glide into the neo-soul classic, “On & On.” Badu’s playfulness shines through this first set as she ad-libs greetings to the audience. “All the people in the front, is this what you want?”
Making sure the concert’s cardinal rule is still being upheld, the band then dives into a reworking of Faith, Hope & Charity’s “To Each His Own” a feel-good disco-soul deep cut casting a spell of “good vibes only” into the arena. The chanteuse showcases her love for hip-hop as the tour’s opener, Yasiin Bey, is brought out to help with a mashup of “Love of My Life” and a spontaneous song made up on the spot. Her ease with lyrical flow further elucidates her seniority in this business.
After Bey takes his leave of the stage we are treated to classics such as “Me,” “Kiss Me On My Neck,” and “Orange Moon.” Whether you are a casual listener or a faithful follower looking forward to deep cuts, Badu majestically captivates with a steadiness that is to be admired. With audience members ranging from those born in the ‘60s to millennials, she captures all our hearts, (but especially the ‘90s babies to whom she gives a special shout out.)
We settle into the slower melodies, and Mother settles down with her guitar on stage on a makeshift bed. A clip of buildings being torn down, demolished, then finally built up again plays on repeat. Mother launches into spellcasting in an African tongue. Her divine care and energy is poured into our souls. We are being built up after years of chaos and destruction. I glance around and some have sat down, eyes closed, humming to the melody, while others stand in faithful ceremony. We are all spellbound, held captive by what we are witnessing.
As the concert comes to a close with the truly eternal “Tyrone,” a new set of abstract Badu art – this time with the theme of “Afrofuturism” – filters through the screen. Badu leads us in a chorus of “But you can’t use my phone,” the famous line of rebuke. Just as we’ve thought we’ve experienced it all, she proceeds to hold the last note for a full two minutes. We leave the arena astounded. Beam her up, Scotty. Her mission is complete.
Created in a lab with the essential ingredients of sugar, sass, and all things spooky, Brea is a film geek with a soft spot for 1940s noir. Her life’s goal is to move to New Zealand and live like a hobbit.