Sade’s sultry and enchanting moves, songs and stagings all came together late in her concert Sunday night at the Greek.
Sixteen songs into her 90-minute set, Sade punched up the engrossing “No Ordinary Love” with swirling psychedelic lights, guitar parts that contrasted with the backdrop of a nature setting and a bass line that was unadulterated easygoing funk.
Bathed in a burnt orange spotlight and dressed in an off-white, sequined, hip-hugging skirt and matching long-sleeved top that bared her midriff, she looked divine. And her voice was soul-driven.
The moment brought together the Nigeria-born singer’s apparent plan to spotlight the distinctive elements of Sade: her sinewy moves and moist voice, her better songs and that insatiable groove. Sade performs with a Billie Holiday-esque knowledge of exactly where to put her emphasis and how to make a lyric ring true.
Quietly and gracefully, she does what few performers in her boat can do. But there is such a sameness to her material that, while each tune is recognizable, if listeners aren’t willing to succumb to that first gentle groove, they’re out for the 90-minute show.
At Sunday’s sold-out show, Sade and her eight-piece band weaved through about 20 songs — culled evenly from her four Epic albums — and delivered them in a manner that sustained a musical and visual interest.
She started with “Sweetest Taboo” and worked familiar songs in their recorded arrangements –“Keep Looking,””Your Love Is King,””Smooth Operator,””Love Is Stronger Than Pride” (with a slight reggae touch) — before delving into material that doesn’t have hit written all over it.
The band provided a segue in the form of an African-inspired instrumental before she settled onto some quiet material like the acoustic “Like a Tattoo” and the captivating “Cherry Pie.”
With a scrim in front of the stage to project images such as clouds and trees and a backdrop to create a sense of Africa, Sade added a needed dimension to her slower material that might otherwise have sent the crowd to sleep rather than into a romantic lull.
Opening the show with a stellar 40-minute set was Digable Planets. With a trio of rappers, sax, trumpet, string bass, drums and DJ, the Planets stretch rap’s boundaries into a jazz netherworld. No one on record is as successful at stretching rap’s boundaries on record as Digable Planets, and Sunday’s show proved they have the goods to make it work onstage.
Their best-known song, “Cool Like Dat,” was performed vibrantly, with rhythm lines that expertly grafted ’90s hip-hop onto ’60s hard-bop. Few bands can jump from Jack Kerouac-inspired ramblings to anti-drug anthems and make neither pretentious or heavy-handed. Digable Planets is the real deal.
Sade and Digable Planets perform again tonight at the Greek.