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Concert Reviews:
Raphael Saadiq brings soul celebration to Motown
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

DETROIT -- The crowd wasn't nearly as large as it should have been, and the sound mix was abysmal.

It was the kind of night any performer could have been forgiven for just phoning it in, but instead Raphael Saadiq transcended all that on Thursday night (June 2) at Saint Andrews Hall to deliver nearly two hours of joyous soul celebration that anyone who wasn't there should kick themselves for missing.

Saadiq, 45 but still baby-faced youthful, has been a soul man nearly all his life -- since joining the Gospel Hummingbirds when he was 12, with Sheila E.'s band when he was 17 and then leading his own Tony! Toni! Tone! But it's during his solo career and particularly on his last two albums -- 2008's Grammy Award-nominated "The Way I See It" and this year's "Stone Rollin' " -- that he's really found a groove, sourcing timeless R&B influences from Motown, Stax and more into a sound that still holds contemporary sway and, on Thursday, kicked some major booty at Saint Andrews.

Saadiq, his five-piece band and two backing singers came out smooth but were soon kicking hard, harsh sound mix and all, with "Staying In Love," the sinewy, staccato "Heart Attack" and the hip-swiveling "Radio." The singer and guitarist was keenly aware of his surroundings -- he did, after all, record a song ("Breaking In") in Hitsville's Studio A for Esquire magazine's latest music issue -- a paid homage to Motown, noting that "if you missed that era 'cause you were two years old or something...this is what it must have been like in Detroit," a fair estimation of the broad age, gender and racial mix in the crowd. And there was certainly a Motown flavor in songs such as "Love That Girl," "Sure Hope You Mean It" and "Never Give You Up."

Saadiq also gave a Detroit-centric shout-out to "Stone Rollin' " guest Amp Fiddler before playing the album's "Movin' Down the Line."

"Stone Rollin' " was, not surprisingly, the focus of the night, with strong renditions of the title track, "Just Don't," "Over You," "Day Dreams" and the show-closing "Go To Hell." But the night's real highlights were extended jams on "Get Involved" and "Skyy, Can You Feel Me," which neatly balanced tight musicianship with improvisational playfulness -- and plenty of dancing both on and in front of the stage.

At the end of the show, Saadiq made a couple of fake exits, ala James Brown, pushed off each time by one of the backing singers as if the band was getting tired. That may have been the case, but rest assured that by that point the Saint Andrews crowd would have taken whatever else Saadiq had to give.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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