Sade w/John Legend
Tuesday, June 21
Better than: Date night at home.
It’s probably obvious to say that Sade makes “mood music.” The velvety, sultry voice of Sade Adu serves as the emotional center, radiating feeling even when it’s seemingly at its most reserved; her phrasing opens up certain notes into embraces that are at turns romantic and comforting. The band backing her up is finely calibrated and taut, knowing precisely when to allow a groove to simmer or to let loose a ripping sax solo.
Of course, the professionalism on display shouldn’t surprise too much; the band’s core members have been playing their low-heat mix of jazz and R&B for nearly 30 years, albeit with a few hiatuses here and there. Sade’s current tour is its first in a decade and supporting both Soldier Of Love—the 2010 album that sold a boatload of copies when it came out—and a greatest-hits collection released earlier this year that contains assists by the likes of Jay-Z and the Neptunes.
The music business has changed since Sade first popped into the American consciousness, obviously; music has as well, a reality that was nodded to when the Quiet Storm mix was accented by hip-hop beats and electronic fiddling that brought to mind Portishead. But the appeal of Sade—expressive, smooth, expertly played music for lovers about love, both good times and the bad—has wavered little over that period. The sentiments expressed in the lyrics are, of course, a large part of the allure, but the inherent appeal of fully grown music in a time when so many seem to be holding on to their youth for as long as humanly possible can’t be denied, either.
There’s always the danger of the intimate transforming into the grotestque when blown up to a size that 10,000 people can see. Sade’s music, though, translated beautifully to the larger setting, a testament to both Adu’s stage presence and the chops of the band backing her up. The bombast of Soldier‘s title track was only amplified by the Coliseum-appropriate sound system; the guitar and saxophone solos on “Smooth Operator” ripped from the stage in an absolutely arena-ready way while retaining the song’s essential allure; “Is It A Crime” was absolutely stunning. (The booty-shaking Adu let loose on “Paradise” inspired a few whoops, too.) And when Adu sang the impassioned “Pearls,” about women in poverty, alone onstage, the “Hallelujah” she let loose at the song’s climax brought the house down.
One small quibble; at times the song’s visual accompaniments distracted from the music a bit too much. The simplest settings—red bunting here, Adu leaning on a piano there—fit the songs’ easy intimacy better than, say, the footage of Adu frolicking around a field that accompanied “Kiss of Life”; the focus was on the “making of a Flickr photoset” short film and not the music. That said, during the night’s finale “Cherish The Day,” everything clicked; Adu, dressed in red, ascended on a red-lit pedestal while the scrim in front of her projected images of a city. The idea of her being a towering figure was completely appropriate; the audience, after all, had been looking up at her with rapt adulation not just at that point, but during the whole night.
Critical bias: Didn’t bring a date.
Overheard: “She’s killing me right now!”—Guy who didn’t put down his camera at all during the night.
Random notebook dump: The crowd last night was certainly one of the more diverse I’ve seen at a non-festival show in recent years—true, almost everyone I saw was over 21, but there was a pretty wide range of post-college demographics represented otherwise. (Also, the outfits on display ranged from sequined gowns to scruffy t-shirts; I was in the latter camp.)
Random notebook dump II: I heard the word “she” so many times last night I thought Sade should take a cue from Paramore and sell SADE IS A BAND t-shirts. (There were nine people on that stage!)
Soldier Of Love
Your Love Is King
Kiss Of Life
Love Is Found
In Another Time
Bring Me Home
Is It A Crime
Love Is Stronger Than Pride
All About Our Love
King Of Sorrow
The Sweetest Taboo
The Moon And The Sky
No Ordinary Love
By Your Side
Cherish The Day