Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Late last night, Raphael Saadiq and his band took their seated places onstage at Union Transfer, under deep blue lights, and treated a capacity Tuesday-night crowd to a soaring instrumental, a sort of somber pre-meal prayer. It was as formal as the night would get, as the magnetic master of ceremonies rose to spark an enduring discourse with frenetic fans, trading dialogue and taking requests — even offering up his mic for a verse — as incandescent stage lights alternated with house lights throughout as if to cue continued conversation.
Saadiq engaged with lengthy stories and stage banter, some context for his compositions, and praise for the city’s rich culture and arts legacy as he cited influence from Philly soul stirrers like The Delfonics and The Stylistics, and peppered his set with covers of Bilal’s “Soul Sista” and The Roots’ “What They Do.” “That’s what Philly is to me, Philly is a lotta music,” noted the singer with a promise, “I’ll try to give it all to you, because the people before me gave it all to me.” There was a whole lotta love in that room, and in the end it was difficult to discern who was charmed more.
Saadiq may only have played just a handful of songs in full, offering up a few performances from his celebrated R&B career, like “Movin’ Down The Line (Don’t You Go Away),” “Be Here,” “Still Ray,” or the new gospel-flavored “Rikers Island.” Aside from that, he casually stutter-stepped his way through the evening, with purposeful false-starts and popular hooks designed to provoke fever-pitch responses, often just to buttonhook the crowd and then pivot onto the next with a shit-hot rhythm section in tow and kept alert throughout by the singer’s discursive set.
It was less a conventional concert than a live mixtape, a kinetic mirror of Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s warm-up set earlier that night, with impromptu renditions of crowd-pleasing cuts like Solange’s “Cranes In The Sky,” or “Anniversary” and “Lovin’ You,” from his days with Tony! Toni! Toné!, many of which he seemed to decide to play right there on the spot as he graciously juggled a preponderance of impassioned pleas from the crowd. “Make a list and leave it at the door,” he relented, suggesting, perhaps entirely in earnest, “I’ll come back, and we’ll go through the whole catalog.” — JOSH PELTA-HELLER
PREVIOUSLY: If there is anything that Raphael Saadiq can’t do, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that scientists have yet to discover it. Sing? Check. Pipes of gold. Write songs? Check. Everything from classic old-school soul readymades to new-school R&B bump-and-grind. Play guitar? Check. He shreds like Ike Turner minus the coke and violence. Produce? Check. In addition to giving his own records a vintage Motown flavor, he’s twiddled the knobs for everyone from D’Angelo and Joss Stone to Macy Gray and Mary J. Blige.Perform? Check. That was more than proven during his 2 1/2-hour tour de force Thursday night at the Electric Factory. Oh, and he can also dress himself impeccably. Saadiq, 45, who got his start in the late ’80s with Tony! Toni! Toné!, looked Thursday night like he had stepped out of a Botany 500 ad from the June ’67 issue of Playboy. MORE