Last Night: Erykah Badu at Free Press Summer Fest

More FPSF 2012 Coverage:Summer Fest line-up reviews on the Rocks Off blog.
Free Press Summer Fest 2012: The Sexy, Sweaty Crowds
Popsicles and Pizza: The Food of Summer Fest
FPSF: The Bands from Saturday
FPSF: The Bands from Sunday

Erykah Badu Free Press Summer Fest June 2, 2012

Miles Davis was the great self-reinventor, going from bop and modal jazz to fusion and funk. (He even apparently made this known to former First Lady Nancy Reagan when the late trumpeter told her, "Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?")

The same amount of on-purpose creative makeovers can be said about Erykah Badu, though her impacts have been smaller-scale and predominantly in modern soul. Known for her varied performances that have incorporated vaudevillian themes, circa-1971 soul and straight-up thrash rock, Badu, more likely than not, will present something that will stick with you at best or be seen as eccentric at worst.

At Free Press Summer Fest Saturday, however, the magic was missing in front of an audience who weren't able to connect with the 41-year-old performer, even though her seven-song set was all about playing the jams from her exalted catalog.

Backed by the eight dudes in The Cannabinoids, who replaced the organic elements of Badu's past sets (real conga drums and wind chimes were replaced by laptop samples), the group kicked off with "The Healer," a Madlib-produced ode to hip-hop's soul.

From there, Badu, with the vocal delay dial cranked to the max, wouldn't revisit any more tracks from her dense and electronic-grounded 2008 album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). Instead, she brought it back to '97 (Baduizm) and '03 (Worldwide Underground) -- but not 2000's Mama's Gun -- with new takes on the cuts that even a casual fan of Badu's would recognize. This included "Appletree," which featured Badu going to town on electronic drums before opening into a dance club-paced rendition of the heady song.

Later, Badu played it closer to the cuff with sounds-like-the-record takes on "Danger," the lead single from the Worldwide Underground EP, and "Otherside of the Game" from Baduizm.

But the overall performer-audience connection was never established. For Badu, a songstress who's all about getting down to the root of her soul through music, it's not going to work very well when the numerous attempts at unity misfire.

Perhaps this is why Badu, towards the end of her set, sang "The stars at night / Are big and bright," just to see if she was in Houston, Texas USA, Planet Earth, and not on some other orb.

Personal Bias: This was my sixth Badu concert and I've never seen an "off" show by her. I'm thinking it was the outdoor festival environment that did it.

The Crowd: Barely anyone dancing or bopping their heads.

Overheard in the Crowd: Boos directed at Dallas when Badu said she and her mates came down the I-45 to play. Seriously, people?

Random Notebook Dump: The stuffed Mogwai (from Gremlins) on a stick seemed to enjoy the show.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen