Monday, July 25, 2011

Bilal and N'Dambi light up Variety Playhouse

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 5:21 PM

Fans who caught Bilal's performance in the recent screening of Jason Orr's FunkJazz Kafe documentary got a chance to see him live at Variety Playhouse on Saturday, July 23. He started out with "Something to Hold On To," seemingly warming up for the high pitch wails he's known for later in the set. "All for Love" was a slightly slower rendition than on album, but satisfied nonetheless. In fact, his lullaby-like songs proved to be the strongest, like the beautifully arranged "Little Ones," but with older songs like "Soul Sista" and "Sometimes" getting the most love from the crowd.

Through 14 songs and a two-song encore, Bilal handled business for about 90 minutes — no stage shenanigans, no banter with the crowd, and ultimately a little less fire than I'd expected. That said, a few attendees said the performance outstripped the one at Chastain back in August 2010; Variety Playhouse management noted how many walk-up tickets were sold; and judging from the stream of people coming in close to 11 for Bilal's set, clearly he is doing soul music right.

But the high energy and stage presence during N'Dambi's opening set, along with the band's chops and clear enthusiasm, definitely didn't soften my expectations.

The crowd at Centennial Olympic Park was obviously larger for the free performance N'Dambi held court over this time last year. But those who came late missed out. N'Dambi got right down to it after arriving just minutes before showtime, hitting the stage around 9:25 p.m. She most definitely put in work, punching and kicking and hitting her poses — all while belting out six songs, including a moving "Ode to Nina" that showcased her jazzier, deeper register, and a cover of "Come Together" that brought Tina Turner to mind. "Can't Hardly Wait" (aka "Fuckin' witchu"), the anthem that speaks to all those who've "been in love, but it was just so wrong," brought her set to a close, as she introduced the band and ended on a fun, high note.

Note: According to Monica Young, N'Dambi's manager, the artist was on site hours before showtime, and never left Variety Playhouse before her performance.

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