ATLANTA—To think that you could buy tickets to see a Grammy Award-winning, bonafide rock ‘n roll star for just $25 is unheard in this era of lofty concert ticket prices.
But it’s true. The recent performance starring Raphael Saadiq at the quaint Variety Playhouse in Atlanta’s earthy neighborhood known as Virginia Highlands, was the anticipated performance we all expected.
While R. Kelly’s upcoming Augusta tour at the James Brown Arena will command 75 bucks per clip, and the June 3 bill featuring Brian McKnight and JOE in Atlanta had an asking price of $134 per ticket—it’s the way of the industry and a sign of the economic times. I could go on.
It’s a disturbing national trend.
But on this unseasonably warm Spring evening in the ATL, give credit to the former lead singer of Tone, Toni, Tony for keeping it real. While his solo music reflects music of a bygone era, ala Sixties and Seventies Soul, so did the asking price for his concert tickets.
Twenty-five dollars per seat!
And man did his fans respond accordingly to Raphael’s accommodating gesture. With petroleum prices hovering in the $4 range, it was obvious that fans realized that the artist was in a way “giving back” to his loyal followers.
And, what followed was certainly not a disappointment. In fact, it was everything expected and more. A phenomenal showing of what appeared to be a couple thousand folks squeezed into the quaint theater which was obviously constructed early in the 20th Century.
The room had a feel of what it must’ve been like at a Sly & The Family Stone concert from say ’69 or so.
In purusing the auditorium, you could easily dub the flavor of the room as a diverse menu of neo Soul People.
Blacks, Whites and so many other folks of various multicultural backgrounds and genders were sprinkled and blended throughout the auditorium—all of ‘em grooving to the soulful, west coast sounds of the headliner and his funky five-piece backing unit, along with an energetic, vocally-gifted background duo.
Speaking of Sly Stone’s presence, it’s no coincidence that Raphael mirrors some of his Sly’s soul—considering that both are from the east bay greasy funkified settings known as “Oaktown” Oakland, Calif.
In addition, both have origins steeped in the Pentacostal Black church tradition where rhythm and soul is the backbeat of every Sunday morning service, something Raphael dubs “Gospeldelic.”
And, it was obvious that Raphael was impressed with the SRO (standing room only) crowd that poured into the Variety to witness this proven legend. On several occasions, he prompted the crowd with comments like “What’s happening Atlanta.” At age 45, Raphael is young enough and old enough to mimic past and present states of popular music—simultaneously with authenticity.
Because the show was held on a Wednesday night, it afforded other professional musicians a chance to witness the act.
Melanie Davis, lead singer of Melonies Felonies, said she was quite impressed with the performance, especially the backup band and singers. Maria Howell, another Atlanta vocalist and actress simply stated, “This man is so gifted.”
And both ladies were on the mark, too.
Raphael demonstrated his abilities not only as a tremendous vocalist with varying ranges, but also as an experienced musician. His rhythm and lead guitar work was equally commanding. So soulful. So funky. And later toward the end of the two-hour show, he grabbed the four-string Fender Jazz bass guitar and thumbed his way into the band’s groove.
Setlist-wise, the music started with a series of commercially unfamiliar tunes that were so groovy, they still demanded attention.
But as the night progressed he delved into compositions from a quintet of solo LPs he has rendered in recent years, since permanently leaving Tony Toni Tone.
From the latest album, Stone Rollin, Raphael offered a lively rendition of his latest hit song “Good Man.” Expectedly, the song has a 1960s flavor ala Curtis Mayfield or Isaac Hayes and the live performance reflected the earthy soul of its recorded studio production.
Other crowd-pleasers on this night were a medley which included “All I Ask of You,” “Anniversary” from the Tony days and of course his noted duo with his pal D’Angelo, “Be Here.”
But it was the driving, pulsating shuffles of “Love That Girl” and “100 Yard Dash” that brought the house down and spotlighted his animated background vocal-dancing duo. It’s now without wonder why Raphael was selected to perform onstage at this year’s 53rd annual Grammy Award telecast, along with the legendary Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
Another little known fact is that early on, Raphael spent a few years in Sheila E’s backup band touring with none other than the legendary Prince.
Knowing that, it’s understandable why Raphael works so hard. His influences are impacting.
And, on this Atlanta night, like the Purple One, he stayed on stage for nearly two, nonstop hours.
No breaks. And then returned for not one, but two encores.
All for $25 in this new millenium concert era?
Simply unhearded of these days and times. Raphael Saadiq is still truly a Son of Soul, keeping bygone days alive and appealing for a new generation of Soul People.