review: Solange dazzled Radio City w/ Earl Sweatshirt, Sun Ra Arkestra & Chassol
Solange still hasn't technically gone on a proper tour supporting last year's excellent A Seat at the Table (which celebrated its one-year anniversary this past Saturday), but she's actually been giving us New Yorkers plenty of chances to see her. After a high-concept performance piece at the Guggenheim, she headlined the Panorama and Afropunk festivals, played a set during Dave Chappelle's Radio City residency, and last night (10/2) she began her own two-night stand at that same historic venue.
I had caught her at Panorama, which was a truly massive spectacle, and last night's Radio City performance was even more spectacular. She once again had her entire band and all her props in all white, and would drench the stage in a solid color light (though she's been known to frequently use red, last night also had a song in blue and a few songs in white). But this time, she had a giant staircase behind her on the stage too. And instead of waiting for her many-membered horn section to come out later in the set, she had her horn section and a string section sitting on the stairs and playing opening song "Rise" before Solange herself even took the stage. At past shows, her giant inflatable ball and pyramid props were part of the backdrop, but this time they were way more 3D, with the ball sitting in the center of that staircase and the pyramids on either side of the stage. Whether she had just her core nine-piece band on stage or the whole ensemble of 20 or 30 people, everyone was in motion for the whole show. Sometimes they were pulling off carefully choreographed dance moves; other times Solange or another band member would really let themselves go, in a more free-spirited way.
Like I also noted in my Panorama review, Solange really performs as a member of her band, not a pop star with musicians far off in the background. There's also no separation between the musicians and the dancers -- every single person dances and every single person either sings or plays an instrument. And they don't miss a beat while doing so. Solange has really put together a show that puts equal emphasis on visuals, stage presence, and musicianship, with so much attention to detail for each one. And she acknowledged on stage that it wouldn't have been possible if she didn't have the support from longtime fans to allow her to keep changing her style up, or all the new fans that helped A Seat at the Table become her most successful album by far, and allowed her to play a sold-out show at, as she said last night, "Radio fucking City!"
Like at her other recent shows, she played pretty much all the favorites off A Seat at the Table, and she revamped a lot of them for her live show. "Mad" came with an extended intro, and "F.U.B.U.," which got the biggest crowd reaction of any song all night, was given a jammy outro. The set-closing "Don't Touch My Hair" also came with a lengthy, climactic ending that really gave the show the towering finale it deserves. She reached back to True for a few songs like danceable fan favorite "Losing You" and the version of "Bad Girls" with founding Earth Wind and Fire bassist Verdine White, who joined Solange on stage last night for that song (as he's done in the past). One of the biggest crowdpleasers of the night was "T.O.N.Y." off 2008's Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, and the real longtime fans were treated to "Crush" off her 2002 debut Solo Star.
The show's lineup was also thoughtfully curated, with three very special openers that complemented Solange's sound in various ways and were a perfect prelude to her set. First up was French composer Chassol, who performed with a drummer. As he does on his albums/films, Chassol and his drummer performed live along with videos that Chassol and a film crew went around the world to capture. He'd have a video of a person singing a cappella, or playing a wind instrument, or of a drum-filled parade, and he and the drummer would add their own parts in to change up the vibe of the original piece entirely. It was wildly impressive to watch him pull it off in person, and especially impressive to watch his extraordinarily talented drummer.
After Chassol it was the Sun Ra Arkestra, who continue the legacy of free jazz legend Sun Ra (who has very likely influenced Solange's own music). Dressed in sparkly, multicolor outfits, the big band played a set of psychedelic jazz-funk that sounds as wild today as it did when Sun Ra was helping to pioneer the sound decades ago. Then it was Earl Sweatshirt, who had the most bare-bones set of the night sandwiched in between the two most vivid sets. Earl started out in the rowdy rap collective Odd Future, but his own recent music -- especially 2015's great I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside -- has been a reaction to that. Earl was the opposite of rowdy at Radio City. He had just a DJ and a hype man, no light show and only some minor visuals, and he really kept it about his lyrics. It could seem disappointing if you were expecting a crazy rap show, but it was powerful in its own way.
Solange, Earl, Sun Ra Arkestra, and Chassol do it again at Radio City tonight (10/3), and you can still snag some tickets. Check out pictures from last night in the gallery above, and a few videos below.
photos by Ahad Subzwari