In the lyrics to her most recognizable song, “The Sweetest Taboo,” Sade Adu beckoned listeners with a reference to “a quiet storm” – a term that’s certainly applicable to her entire oeuvre. But while it’s simple enough to hear the “quiet” in Sade’s blend of bossa-jazz and silky R & B, this performance – the band’s first Gotham-area gig in a decade – also offered plenty of the latter in subtle, undulating waves of tempestuousness redolent of a night-time high tide.
Adu and her core band – which has remained remarkably unchanged over the decades – were augmented by a pair of percussionists and two additional guitarists, but the overall sound remained crisp and minimal, all the better to play up the intimacy of songs like “Your Love Is King” and “Smooth Operator,” the latter of which was cleaved by a serpentine solo by saxophonist Stuart Matthewman.
The two-hour perf – enhanced by a supper-club like stage setting and visuals directed by Sophie Muller – was designed to draw the crowd in, rather than serve up a spectacle better appreciated from a distance. The closeness was underscored by the ’40s-style animation that twinkled behind the band during “Smooth Operator,” and by the vulnerability the singer injected into the sparse ballads “Jezebel” and “Is It A Crime?”
When she ventured into more aerobic material – the title track of last year’s Grammy-winning “Soldier of Love” album and the vintage “Paradise” — Adu came across as a bit awkward. The hitch wasn’t so much in her vocal delivery, which was spot on, but in a feeling of enforced jollity that ran counter to her innate warm elegance; fortunately the warmth ultimately won out.
The tour’s event status was cemented early on – with dates announced and tickets up for sale more than six months in advance despite a low-key promotional effort. The aud that turned out here, barely a week into the 54-date run, was clearly dominated by hardcore fans – an older crowd peppered with twenty-somethings who might otherwise be found at a Michael Buble gig.
Sade performs at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on August 18th, 19th and 20th.