Radio City fills with a deep reverberating bassline that cascades across the darkened stage and out into the audience for what seems like an eternity. She slinks out, heels kicking as high as her black minidress will permit. Once she is center-stage, Erykah Badu owns the night.
While her vocals on the new album, â€œNew Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World Warâ€ often drift below complex breaks and layered instrumentation, Erykah Badu’s live show places her firmly at the center of her own musical universe.
She starts and stops her eleven-piece ensemble at will with the precision of tracks cued into her laptop, she sips unknown liquid from a thermos and then pauses to check her makeup, she removes and replaces her whig/hat during song and plays with a pair of giant rubber balls on stage.
It’s a poor analogy but being within eyeshot of an Erykah Badu concert is akin to being front and center for David Copperfield in that her complete control over every aspect of her at times insane performance is both perplexing and astonishing.
Badu began the show with tracks from her new album and switched to older work from her previous four disc catalog half way through. “New Amerykah, Pt.:4th World War,” Erykah’s first album since 2003 is wonderful and definitely worth a repeated play.
Erykah was positioned center-stage about 10-15 feet away from me. Like many theaters in NYC, the seats in Radio City Music Hall go right up to the stage. It was for this reason that I was restricted to a seated position just house right of center for the allotted three songs.
Erykah didn’t take the stage until nearly four minutes into her first song. That combined with the fact that I was so sick my hands were shaking had me worried I wasn’t going to be happy with my work at the end of the night. Still, thanks to the Image Stabilization function of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, and more Alkaseltzer Cold & Flu than a small Chinese guy should probably ingest, things turned out okay.
This was the second time I’d had the pleasure of photographing Erykah Badu. I caught up with her at an intimate listening party at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors just days before the release of her “New Amerykah.”
The lighting for the first three songs was decent enough and fairly straight forward. Warm red lighting abounded and was punctuated by hot white spotlights. Though yellow, red, and blue background lights flared in time with the music throughout the first three songs, most of them were too high to fit into the frame.
I shot with the Canon EOS-1D Mark III and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L for nearly the entire set. Save the single wide shot, taken with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, the rest of my lenses stayed in the bag.
Without the ability to move around, I stuck to the 150mm – 200mm end of the zoom to get a tight perspective on the action. Since Erykah performed in entirely black clothing on a black background, the most interesting part of the images were her face and arms.
My exposure rarely deviated from ISO2000 and 1/200 at f/4.0.