Erykah Badu helps make the Las Vegas Jazz Fest memorable

Erykah Badu
Photo: Corlene Byrd
Jason Harris

Four stars

Eykah Badu September 25, Henderson Pavilion.

In the loosest interpretation, headliner Erykah Badu makes sense on a jazz festival bill. But the queen of neo-soul proved that it’s impossible to box her into any one genre, electrifying the Las Vegas Jazz Festival crowd at the Henderson Pavilion on Friday night.

First, a word about the venue. It might be the premiere outdoor concert locale in the Valley. Sitting up close in the seats is nice, but nothing beats stretching out on the grassy hill, which still gives you a good view of the show and makes you feel like you’re at a true concert in the park.

Badu, now 44, still has the energy she did nearly two decades ago, when she first exploded onto the scene. From that initial album Baduizm, “On & On” made an early appearance and retains its silky smooth feel. With two percussionists, one on a traditional kit and the other standing behind congas and a few other toys, Badu & Co. were really able to explore the rhythmic space. “Appletree” took the opposite tact, with the bass and keyboards dominating the musicality. It also showed the star’s immaculate range, through the simple refrain of the word “down” toward the end of the jam, as she reached full, powerful notes all over the map.

Badu asked the lively crowd, “How many people out there are having their first Badu experience?” then made sure those who cheered wouldn’t forget what they had witnessed. “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)” might as well have been part of an old-school block party. The video, which features cameos from many of hip-hop’s legends, remained in spirit in this incarnation, as Badu sampled some of her favorite way-back cuts mid-song. The West Coast was repped by NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton,” but the highlight was Whodini’s “Friends,” which sounded totally fresh from the mouth of Badu, with dirty synths behind her.

As she dips in and out of the spotlight, Badu could be playing an amphitheater or a bingo hall. Wherever she’s at, and however they’re billing her really doesn’t matter. She remains one of the great live performers.

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