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Live review: Erykah Badu's surprise midnight show at the El Rey

March 31, 2010 |  5:10 pm


“Had three babies by three different dudes, ran in the nude in Dallas,” Erykah Badu sang amid loud cheers from fans that packed into her not-so-secret show at the El Rey Theatre on Tuesday evening.

It would be the only time that Badu would make reference to the controversy she is facing surrounding her latest video, “Window Seat.” In the clip, which has gone viral, she is seen walking the streets of Dallas near the site where JFK was assassinated, slowly stripping; the moment after she takes off her last piece of clothing, the singer is shot by an unseen assassin.

On Monday, Badu took to her Twitter page to advertise the release party/concert celebrating the unveiling of her fifth album, “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh),” tweeting, “secret show in los angeles at 9 pm 3/30/2010 shhh...” It might not have been much notice, but judging by the line stretching down Wilshire Boulevard, word had got out.

Fans waited patiently while she spent time greeting the crowd and posing for pics. She hit the stage at close to midnight.

Taking the stage in a tan trench coat and beaded braids that flowed down her back (a throwback to the late funk singer Rick James?), Badu offered no apologies or explanation for the delay before launching into “20 Feet Tall,” the lead track from her new album.

“Then you, you built a wall, a 20-foot wall so I couldn’t see… If I get off my knees, I might recall I’m 20 feet tall,” she sang behind a hushed groove.

Flanked by a band that included a harp and flute, which blended seamlessly with the funk-filled sounds of the keyboard and drums, Badu transformed the packed house into a religious service -- albeit one where the pastor allows marijuana -- as fans testified and sang along to songs that included tackling the government, personal liberation and, of course, love, her pitch-perfect vocals encouraging plenty of chants.

“New Amerykah Part Two” is filled with the nostalgic soul that Badu is known for, and her live offering was no different. While fans might have had their endurance tested with the wait at the standing-room-only show, her lush harmonies made up for the delay, and she commanded the audience for her hour-plus show. She didn’t offer many songs from her new album, instead treating fans to classic tracks from her catalog, turning hits such as “On & On,” “Love of My Life” and “The Healer” into jam sessions.

Badu might have tested our patience before the show began, but once her voice filled the theater,  no one seemed to mind; fans just wanted to get their own “Window Seat” into the world of Badu.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Erykah Badu performs at the El Rey Theatre. Courtesy of concert attendee Tameka S.