Sade gig might have been much more

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2011 - 12:13 AM

REVIEW: On her first tour in 10 years, Sade couldn't decide whether to fill the room or shrink it.

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Who makes these decisions anyway?

At this stage of her career, Sade playing at Target Center makes as much sense as Adele performing at First Avenue. The fallout: Tickets to Sade, the 1980s superstar, were $20 on Groupon, and tickets to Adele, the biggest selling artist of 2011, were running $600+ on Craigslist before her gig was moved to Xcel Energy Center.

Both of these celebrated British singers make deliciously intimate music that has made them hugely popular. But should the music fit the venue or popularity dictate the place?

You play Sade music in the living room or boudoir. The at-home aphrodisiac translated into too much monotony early on in a half-empty basketball arena Tuesday. Her two-hour concert before 6,500 people was ill-conceived musically and visually. On her first tour in 10 years, Sade, 52, couldn't decide whether to shrink the room or fill it. Too often the bass and drums were too loud, masking the magic of her famously subdued voice. Too often the staging was too stylish, making it difficult to watch a woman in black performing on an all-black stage with lighting more arty than illuminating.

When Sade dialed it down, the faithful swooned in the sophisticated, sultry glow. The ballads were brilliant. With four musicians standing in spotlights, "Jezebel" was as effective as its predecessors were ineffective. This late-night jazz ballad about a prostitute was punctuated by Stuart Matthewman's big saxophone wailing like Clarence Clemons' did at Bruce Springsteen concerts. Then the previously hushed Sade, now changed into an easy-to-see white blouse with tuxedo pants and vest, belted out the final vocal line.

With her voice going from a dulcet purr to a full-throated soulful wail, she really sold her longing on "Is It a Crime," her most nuanced number of the night. "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" was smartly recast as spaced-out, moody jazz, proving that she's stronger when her musicians are quieter.

Sade and her eight-man group finally figured out how to frame her hopelessly bittersweet music. "Sweetest Taboo" found a nice percussive groove. "By Your Side" took on a syncopated island feel, complete with falling confetti pretending to be liquid sunshine, and the mellow, musically mechanical "Cherish the Day" literally put her on a pedestal in a stately red gown.

Nothing was more moving than "Pearls," a rare Sade song that doesn't deal with love. Sade, her famous ponytail freed into a bushy mane, stood by herself on the barren stage, barefoot in a shimmering white gown. Backed by swelling strings and a sorrowful cello from an unseen synthesizer, she poured her heart out about poverty in Somalia, proving her emotive powers have many possibilities.

Opening the concert was John Legend, who, like Sade, is a smooth operator who won the Grammy for best new artist (20 years apart). The supremely talented piano man, 32, layered his pop-soul with horns and female vocal harmonies and then filtered it through the church. He did several of his suave hits and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" as a voice-and-kick-drum gospel piece and James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy" like Ray Charles doing the godfather of soul.

Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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