Although she may have cut her planned quad-run at the Sydney Opera House in half, citing health issues, Houston artist Solange was very much in fine-form as she danced across the Concert Hall last night.
The first of two shows (the final one being tonight), Solange and her impeccable band managed to perfectly capture the evocative, vulnerable and inspiring qualities of her two most recent albums – 2016’s A Seat at the Table and last year’s When I Get Home – giving the audience a live music experience that can really only be described as transcendental.
That’s no surprise. Solange has been transcending expectations for a good decade now. Far from the young mainstream-hopeful once making R&B throwaways with the likes of Noreaga and B2K, Solange’s shows now – rightfully – occupy contemporary art museums and historic concert halls. They could just as easily fit into late-night jazz clubs.
Heavy on influences from free jazz legend Sun Ra and R&B paragon Aaliyah, this current live show is an extraordinary deep-dive into just how much of a creative force this woman has become.
She proudly tells us about a piece she arranged, “Bridge-s”, before working with her band to bring it to life: the hypnotic repetition of an unfinished phrase so simple as “and I” sang sweetly against the concrete punctuation of sharp brass and stuttered keys. It’s an intelligently composed, perfectly paced number that reiterates her talent as a producer as much as a vocalist.
And then there’s the swagger. The confident flow of short-form “Binz” and fan-favourite “Losing You”. Or the slinky “Stay Flo”, which moves away from its ornate recorded version to something more minimal and metallic, but no less hinged on that undeniable R&B bounce.
All this complemented by an equally large focus on dance, both abstract and interpretive, with brilliant use of an unusual stage, the centrepiece being a wide set of stairs up which dancers either march in perfect synchrony or twerk sporadically.
The first time Solange herself ascends these – pearly white – stairs is during a rousing performance of “F.U.B.U”, a proud assertion of blackness aimed squarely at empowering a black and brown audience, with a punchy line of brass that feels as urgent and aggressive as a KLC production.
It’s a lot to take in, and everything has meaning here. The blood-red lighting so central to the performance of set-closer “Don’t Touch My Hair”; the steady morphing motif that begins with “taking on the lie” and ends with “taking on the light”; the pin-drop stillness of “Cranes in the Sky”.
What better way to bring an historic end to Sydney’s most iconic venue? After tonight, Solange’s final performance, the Sydney Opera House will close their Concert Hall for up to two years while it takes on the largest development the space has seen since it first opened in 1973. What a gift then, that the venue closes with what is without any doubt one of the best live shows it has hosted in years.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Limited tickets are still available to Solange’s SOH show tonight, click HERE to book.
Feature image supplied, credit to Daniel Boud.