There are some artists dedicated to perfecting their craft. They know their genre, they know their abilities, they know their limitations, and they stick to their strengths, refining and perfecting as they go.
They do not tour just to make more money, indeed they may tour very seldom, as is the case with Helen ‘Sade’ Adu. It has been a full decade since there was an album from Sade, much less a real tour. The reason? Sade was at home raising her kids in the U.K. (and Jamaica where she also has a home), and besides she did not want to do an album and a tour until she was convinced she had enough really good new material to warrant such a tour. What a rare breath of fresh air that attitude is. Don Henley once famously said that you have 20 years to write the songs for the first album, and when it climbs the charts, you then have less than 20 months to come up with an encore. That is, unless you take Sade’s approach, and serve no ‘wine’ (i.e. music) before its time.
Suffice it to say, that I found it well worth the wait, to finally get to hear in person one of my very favorite jazz pop artists of all time just this past week in the Boston Garden. It was worth the wait, worth the time, and worth the money. The show was spectacular, and involved all kinds of special projections of images, short films, surprising risings and fallings of the stage, five costume changes, and much more. The Sade portion of the concert lasted some 2 hours and 15 minutes, and this was after a full hour of John Legend’s r+b meets Motown meets hip hop stuff. He was excellent as well– a terrific voice, a good band, and better than average piano playing. But the night truly belonged to Sade. Let’s start with the admission that she looks as good at 51 years of age as most men and women I know half her age. Amazing. She never seems to age, nor has her voice lost anything in the process. If anything as the concert went on, she got stronger and stronger so by the time we got to the encore (‘Cherish the Day’) she sounded like she could have gone on a lot longer.
Have a look at this picture which now graces her new Ultimate CD (all older songs remasters and sparkling, plus cuts from her most recent album and some bonus cuts. This album is an excellent Sade starter kit).
The running joke about this concert tour is that half the audience was conceived while her music was playing, and the other half were the conceivers. It was a diverse audience of young and old and the Garden was only a few seats shy of a sell out. Pretty impressive when the last time one toured the U.S. was before 9-11. And such care was taken in the presentation. You can tell when an artist cares about her audience by how much she is willing to spend on special effects, short films, visual stimuli, costume changes and the like. In this case— a bundle was spent to create a spectacular show, and it all worked too. Check out the somewhat blurry image (sorry about that, the crowd was jumping and jivving to the tunes) of Sade raised some 30 feet up in the air on a narrow platform to sing one of her torch songs. She even danced a bit up there. I was holding my breath in case she fell.
Sade risked a lot of things with this tour. And her loyalty to her original band was clear, as they were there on the stage with her, having played with her for thirty years (there were some addition players as well). Especially impressive was Sade’s back up vocalists and her dynamic sax player who also writes tunes with her, and plays a mean guitar as well. At the end of the show she introduced them all to us and thanked them all profusely. It was not all about her— how refreshing. If you were to compare Sade to anyone, no one really much comes to mind. She does not do straight up jazz or straight up or pop or rock. Like Joni Mitchell in her jazz rock phase, she offers up a potpourri synthesis of those genre of music, and does it well, being equally effective on ballads as on uptempo and dance numbers. And oh yes….. this news just in, Sade can still dance. There was a nice, unhurried pace to this concert, and a nice alternating between ballads and uptempo numbers, with all of her major hits played. Especially effective were numbers from No Ordinary Love, including the title cut and the heart-wrenching Pearls. If you have an opportunity to catch this concert during the rest of the summer tour, sell the dog and buy a ticket. You won’t regret it. You might even learn that, as Sade says, ‘Love is stronger than Pride’. This is one of the top five popular concerts I have been to in my lifetime.