Monday, February 3, 2020

Raphael Saadiq's Orlando performance uncovers the magic of an overlooked leading man

Posted By on Mon, Feb 3, 2020 at 12:46 PM

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
Raphael Saadiq, Jamila Woods and DJ Duggz at the Plaza Live, Jan. 31

This has been a long time coming. Most certainly this Orlando show, god yes (for which he actually apologized onstage), but really the full reckoning of Raphael Saadiq.

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
In a long and credentialed career stretching back to the 1980s, he’s been a famously prolific collaborator. As a solo artist, however, Saadiq’s been the agonizing opposite. Still, even though those recorded tastings have been few and far between, they’ve certified his individual greatness. And A-list though his associations may be, his virtuosity deserves its own space. Well, he finally arrived in Orlando – a city he estimates he hasn’t played since he was a kid – to do just that.

click to enlarge Jamila Woods at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Jamila Woods at the Plaza Live
Opening was tourmate Jamila Woods, an R&B ace in the hole on tastemaking indie-rock label Jagjaguwar making her first tour through Florida. As neo as it is alternative, the soul step of this young Chicago artist is a deadly combination of brass and finesse. Fronting a full four-piece band, her poised, crisp voice is steel wrapped in silk, rolling both smooth and tough like a young 21st century Erykah Badu.

click to enlarge Jamila Woods at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Jamila Woods at the Plaza Live
In the last ramp up to the feature, touring turntablist DJ Duggz jumped on to spin a set thick with party-starting classic R&B anthems with hype-man flair designed to light the crowd in block party style. The floor was primed.

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
And then, at long last, Raphael Saadiq claimed the spotlight. Though his solo career paints an artist steeped in reverence for vintage soul, he’s shown an increasingly forward look. His feet are in the idealized patina of the past but his sharp, smart eye can see the future. And now with some heavy subject matter on his great current album Jimmy Lee (only his first since stellar 2011 album Stone Rollin’), he’s emerging anew with the grit and bite of modern truth.

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
Despite his studio range, his live arrangement for this tour leans jazz with the piano often in the lead. But as it should be, all is secondary to Saadiq’s singing. And on stage as it is on record, his voice is the genuine 24K article – a marvel that, with age, only gathers command rather than rust.



click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
Together, he and his band kept the show deep in groove. Saadiq amply flexed his ballad crooner chops, even delivering some grown-up renditions of Tony! Toni! Toné! songs that resonated like never before, And though it did come at the cost of not emphasizing some of his deeper, gutsier solo material enough, that’s probably the demographic juggle you face when you’ve got a career as spanning as Saadiq’s.

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
But live framing aside, take his solo work in sum and it totals one of the most finished and complete soul artists alive. A rolling boulder of soul, rhythm & blues, rock & roll and even hip-hop, Raphael Saadiq’s music is the velvet distillation of a half century of Black excellence.

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
In certain societies, his cachet is deep. But it’s far from universal. And that’s unfortunate because there are few more plain cases of brilliant stars working in relative shadow as Saadiq. Hopefully with the momentum of the excellent Jimmy Lee, that will change. The world would shine brighter for it.

click to enlarge Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live - MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • Michael Lothrop
  • Raphael Saadiq at the Plaza Live
Follow Bao on Twitter (@baolehuu)
Email Bao: baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com

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