Just standing still Monday night in Central Park, you couldn’t help but feel suffocated by the 85-degree wet heat that blanketed the city. So imagine how Erykah Badu felt as she danced around and sang her emotional ditties for the crowd at the park’s SummerStage venue. She was so hot she had to take off her dress in the middle of her set.
“Thank you God for this breeze,” Badu said during a breakdown in her performance of “Didn’t Cha Know” early in the show. Dressed in a peach dress, matching headdress and gloves that came to her elbows, the singer encouraged the people in the crowd to “live free” no matter what religion they practice or what walk of life they are from. She then let out a loud shriek and said that’s what free living allows her to do.
Then the “analog girl in a digital world” asked, “What good do your words do, if they can’t understand you?” during “… & On,” followed by a call and response, with her backup singers telling her, “Don’t go talking that sh-, Badu.”
As fans became more drenched with sweat, they seemed to forget the heat and focus more on the night’s main attraction as she removed her headdress to show off her nearly bald dome.
“My hair ain’t never hung down to my shoulders and it might not never grow, you never know,” she crooned, going into “Cleva.” “I’m clever when I bust a rhyme.” She then began voguing while the band briefly played an instrumental interlude from India.Arie’s “Video.”
Though most of the close-to-two-hour set was devoted to songs from her second studio LP, Mama’s Gun, she did take it back to her acclaimed debut, Baduizm (which spawned a multiplatinum live album), with a spooky version of “Apple Tree.”
Turning the stage lights low, and with the band playing at a much slower pace than the uptempo jazzy album version, Badu set a ghost story mood with her lyrics, “It was a stormy night/ you know the kind when the lightning strikes.”
As the thumping bass and haunting piano strokes backed her singing, her male backup singers pleaded, “I want to be down, I want to be down,” in deep monotones.
And if the temperature wasn’t high enough, Badu increased the heat with a sultry performance of “Kiss Me on My Neck.” Taking off her peach ensemble to reveal a slinkier, sexier black dress underneath, Badu did an about-face from the spectators – some of whom gave catcalls like “You sure are fine” and “Freak it, Erykah” – and told them, “I want somebody to walk up behind me and kiss me on my neck and breathe on my neck.” Walking around the stage with the high split in her dress showing off her left leg, she warned that anyone who wants to feel her has to be “divine.”
Badu’s voice stayed right on point with her soulful studio recordings, though she did switch up a little, adding some scatting here and there, musical breakdowns in the middle of some of the cuts, and, on “A.D. 2000,” she even displayed her guitar skills, sitting down to pluck at the strings.
Toward the end of the show, she seemed overwhelmed with emotion, fighting back tears as she performed “Ye Yo,” which she dedicated to her son and newborn nephew. She was joined onstage by her little one, but the child seemed frightened by the large crowd and scurried off as quickly as he ran on.
After 10 minutes of performing her tale of love found, lost and sought again, “Green Eyes,” she ended the night with “Bag Lady.”
Opting for the more party-friendly version of the song – the video version, which borrows the same track Dr. Dre used for his song “Xxplosive” – Badu kept the crowd dancing and singing along, and told the ladies to help her out by waving one finger in the air. She then did a timid stage dive and was subsequently carried on some fans’ shoulders. She spilled water out of a bottle on the crowd, then ended the show.