Raphael Saadiq at First Ave Poster
Raphael Saadiq Setlist
07/26/2018 Boston, MA Royale Nightclub
07/27/2018 Willingboro, NJ Kennedy Center
10/26/2018 London, UK IndigO2 "BluesFest"
“Slept on”, but feeling good about it--
Singer/songwriter Raphael Saadiq has been in the music game for over thirty years- starting as Sheila E’s bass player in the ‘80s; to bands like Tony! Toni! Tone!, The Ummah, and Lucy Pearl; to Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated solo success, but still remains somewhat unknown …and that’s all right with him.
Touring for the first time in six years, Saadiq and band brought their classic R&B sound to a crowded First Avenue Mainroom, to play old favorites and preview new songs on his brief Ray Ray vs. Charlie Ray Tour, in anticipation of a new studio album, due in early 2019.
The evening opened with a DJ set from former Tribe Called Quest member and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who was also a member of The Ummah and Lucy Pearl with Saadiq, and is currently co-producing the soundtrack for the Netflix series Luke Cage. In his brief forty-minutes, Muhammad managed to span forty years’ worth of songs, from ‘60’s Motown and James Brown, to Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., to more contemporary hip-hop and soul.
Widely regarded as a premier progenitor of the current old school R&B movement, the largely well-dressed audience moved closer to the stage as the lights dimmed and film soundtrack intro music, gave way to Raphael Saadiq and band opening their two-hour set (inexplicably) with an instrumental Stereolab cover, which both showcased and warmed up the well-rehearsed foursome backing the singer.
From there, the old skool soul kicked in, with 2009’s ‘100 Yard Dash’, with Saadiq in a smart light-colored suit and knit hat crooning in his distinctive Smokey Robinson-esque voice that can easily move from falsetto to growl, in the same lyrical line. Realizing the history of the room and returning to it for the first time since Prince passed away, he knew it was the ideal place to live debut a handful of songs from The Story of Jimmy Lee, the upcoming album that is both highly personal and “iabout all kinds of addictions”, handing over lead vocals to guitarist Charlie Burrell for ‘I’m Brand New’.
“This is the place where they try new music” Saadiq said, playing the new ‘I’m So Ready’ for the first time publicly, its quick beat and Saadiq’s sunny vocal style belying the slight darkness of the lyrics. Muhmmmad joined Saadiq on stage briefly, then a mid-set medley of solo songs showed the real scope of his songwriting abilities, including his co-penned 2003 ‘Love of My Life’ which was a radio hit for Erykah Badu.
“Some of the things I read about myself is that Raphael is the most slept on, dope artist” Saadiq mused, aloud “But, I like walking around, going to stores” he said of his relative anonymity, calling the medley that continued on, as the soundtrack of “a short ride in my car” that would also feature a swirling organ solo.
After a personal story to help frame the song, the new ‘Riker’s Island’ ended the main set (coupled with a drum solo), though Saadiq and band didn’t leave the stage at the seventy-minute mark, choosing instead to stay and proceed on with an extended “freestyle” encore.
The crowd sang along, finishing the lines of his ballads, ‘Me & You’ and ‘Ask of You’ as things then picked backed up with Saadiq asking, “Ya’ll want some blues now?” strumming into a grooving ‘Stone Rollin’. “Can you feel me, Minnesota?” Saadiq wondered as he and the band drifted and floated on the set-closing ‘Skyy, Can You Feel Me’, with its 70’s Stevie Wonder-like feel, and getting the audience to sing back on cue, before the night ended with a more volume-filled finish.
Some may feel that Raphael Saadiq is a “slept on” artist – usually critically-acclaimed but maybe not as mainstream popular as other artists; but that’s actually all right with him, and for the discerning listener, a musical secret that’s worth being in the know about.
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