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[whitespace] Supersoul Diva

Erykah Badu showed off her attitude and her heart at Chronicle Pavilion show Aug. 17

By David Espinoza

WITH ONLY three albums out, soul diva Erykah Badu has quickly become one of the preeminent artists of our time--at least on record. If there had been any doubts about her capabilities as a live performer, they were washed away at the Chronicle Pavilion on Friday (Aug. 17).

Perhaps due to her unspoken but very implied self-importance as a historical soul goddess in the making, Badu has a special love for past eras. The spirits of Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday were immediately apparent once the curtains lifted to reveal the Chronicle Pavilion stage transformed into a 1920s speakeasy, complete with jazz cats in suspenders on stand-up bass, sax and upright piano, and ladies in sun hats, wearing long white gloves.

The diva in red, Badu, appearing about 10 feet tall, thanks to her svelte frame and towering head wrap (Billie Holiday-sized flower adorning the side of her face), and carefully holding a long cigarette between her fingers, slowly slinked onstage to the song "Rim Shot."

The rest of the night flowed smoothly through songs off her 1997 debut, Baduizm, and her most recent, Mama's Gun.

While Badu's music transcends the very nature of contemporary soul (rivaled only by Lauren Hill and maybe Mary J. Blige), she has the utmost respect for generations past. And as much as she loves to deliver a visually striking show, talent trumps looks. Case in point: Badu's two backup singers were not of the T&A hootchy-mama or anorexic persuasion.

Badu's polished voice can be as soothing as a lullaby and yet as painful as a paper cut with lemon juice poured over it. Her music is all about raw emotions, love and the ensuing pain, but she also reminds men who's really in charge. Her biggest hit, "Tyrone," is basically about telling her man to hit the road.

Given how Badu is almost as easily known for her attitude as for her accomplishments as an artist, it was a jaw-dropping moment when she took down her head wrap to reveal a shiny bald head. From there, she sang, "This is how I look without makeup," the opening lyrics from "Cleva," a song about embracing the beauty and honesty of aging.

A few minutes earlier, Badu had told her audience, "I had a dream that one day people would feel free enough to be themselves and not care what anybody thinks. I'm only trying to encourage freedom, y'all."

It is a rare thing for an artist, especially one with so much pride, to be so candid and vulnerable with her audience. Badu clearly let more than just her wrap go, as she loosened up and joked with the crowd. By the encore, Erykah did something not even Lauren Hill would dare do--she stepped into the audience to get everyone to sing with her. In all, Badu shined, as she puts it herself, "like a supernova star."

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