Erykah Badu : Manchester Apollo

The spiritual soulstress enchants on the first date of her tour...

A cynic would say it’s because she has Motown on her side. For all the blings that are blinged and booty licked, it’s ironic that the most acclaimed of American soulstresses is typified not by digital compression but sweet nostalgia.

Quite literally an in-law to the futurist hiphop and r&b scene (OutKast ‘s Andre sired her son, Seven Sirus) that so typifies the current, Erica Wright’s

mastery is the grace and vision with which she holds her anachronism. Tonight, she has the air of a woman not from the past, but a different world entirely. After a muddling, over-egged introduction, it takes ‘Penitentiary Philosophy’, and subsequent track-by-track reproduction of the first half of ‘Mama’s Gun’ for things to really catch fire. And when Erykah screams in a state of ecstatic [I]”freedom”[/I], that Rizla-thin barrier between popstar and genuine great is torn away with the same force of intent as her turban.

‘Didn’t Cha Know’ is still buoyant pop seduction, but the most striking thing is how, live, the songs become even more weightless and translucent than on record. Badu‘s caramel, throaty voice entrances. Things could float away were it not for her enormous presence.

By ‘Green Eyes’, the genre’s cloying live tendency to freestyle a track within an inch of its life has been turned fabulously to the lady’s advantage. It’s because she eats a lot of vegetables, she sings, but chances are she’s got some damn fine contact lenses just in case. As a triumphant ‘Bag Lady’ rounds things off, she is lifted right on top of the audience, holding Mancunian hands and not letting go. And for a moment, Erykah and her people are as one – deliciously funky and defiantly free.

Daniel Martin