About halfway through her set at the Bowery Ballroom last night, Solange unhooked the mic from behind her ear, gently disentangling it from her signature cloud of hair before slipping into “Cosmic Journey,” an ethereal waft of a song from a few years ago. “Where do we go, on this wide and traveling open road?” she sang to the rapt, packed audience. After a minute or two, she figured it out and ended the song. “All right, this isn’t working out,” she said. “We tried to re-learn this shit at sound check and it wasn’t working. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you just fuckin’ lose. So fuck it, let’s dance!”
Solange Knowles could have fuckin’ lost. Beyonce’s little sister was a backup dancer for Destiny’s Child at 15, got married and had a child two years after that, and got a divorce in Idaho by the time she was of legal drinking age. That picture doesn’t exactly set the stage for a successful music career, let alone a life behind the scenes that doesn’t wind up on E!’s True Hollywood Stories. But onstage, doing the mashed potato in an orange and green patterned dress with a slit up to there, it was clear she had life-affirming confidence in what she was doing. Well, except for a few things. “You would tell me if I had pink lipstick smeared all over my face, wouldn’t you?” she asked.
Added at the last minute, this sold-out show behind the recent release of her third EP, True, was her second in a week at the same venue. Beyonce wasn’t there, but there were rumors that she was in the balcony right above us. Sinkane opened. A Sudanese multi-instrumentalist with the likes of Yeasayer and Caribou–who also recently came out with a record, Mars , his first solo effort–he flexed the sound system’s abundant bass on a short set of rhythmically entrancing African music derivatives. Some ladies in the audience who had been busting a serious move during “Making Time” and “Runnin'” actually sat down after he left the stage, legs splayed out in front of them.
Solange was a bit late getting to the stage, but her show was so bite-sized and early that no one minded. Plus, it was Solange. She could have farted and it would have been utterly charming. It’s cheap to say there’s something ineffable about a performer, but there’s something about the way Solange dances better than Bey but still looks awkward sometimes, and that she can totally fuck up a song and then pop, drop, and lock it to “Locked In Closets,” no problem. “Oh my God, she is so cool!!!” one girl screamed when she climbed down into the audience after the encore, audibly hyperventilating when the singer was escorted past us backstage again.
She also inspires the same dedication in her backing band and backup singers, who danced in synchronicity with her as they dropped the thick bass like pancake batter on the simmering guitars and keyboards. While viscerally loud, it never threatened to overpower Solange’s voice. Though capable of her sister’s vocal pyrotechnics, she keeps her range understated; except for “Lovers In the Parking Lot,” which she said was her favorite. Solange went into paroxysms of delight as she shivered to the booming hi-hats, belting the words with Mariah Carey’s abandon. And she was generous with it, waving her arms with an expectant smile at the audience, who obligingly filled in the chorus on “Don’t Let Me Down.”
I initially said “ineffable” because at the end of the night there were no words, really, except for my own loud and off-key singing to “Losing You” while walking back to the train. Stylish and fallible, Solange receives projections of our own ideal selves and then somehow inspires us with them, hitting notes we wish we could and successfully finding her way out of a less-than-ideal situation with her own savings from that stint as a backup dancer. And I mean, who hasn’t been kissed in a Jimmy John’s at some point?
Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work Out
Don’t Let Me Down
Lovers In the Parking Lot
Locked In Closets