[I had written a whole post about this concert on the ride back from Newark where Sade performed. The iPhone swallowed it - along with my notes, detailing an experience that truly moved me. Here, I attempt to try capture some of what I was feeling after this show, at 2:37am.]
The distinct drumbeat behind Soldier of Love marched Sade onto stage, as the lighting framed her sleek silhouette. The trademarks all there – slick-backed ponytail, hoop earrings, long, slim black attire – cut a striking figure of someone I had come to know in voice and on CD cover only. With her band as her army, her songs as her armour, she saluted us, her audience, fellow love-fighters – a gesture that welcomes us onto her battlefield, where heartache and honesty would be Sade’s weapons of choice in tonight’s show.
“Thank you so much for coming,” she says, after the first song. “This has been a long time coming. We’re going to make it a night to remember.”
Indeed the night is long overdue. It’s been ten years since Sade’s last major tour of the US and fans sitting around me tell tales of seeing her at Madison Square Garden. For this fan too, who grew up with Sade’s music filling my mother’s jukebox, it is a show I’ve been waiting for a long time to see.
The concert, at Newark’s Prudential Center in New Jersey, plays out as a theatrical show without the theatrics. Skillful lighting, projected cinematic images and changes of clothing and hairstyle frame each song, each emotion evoked through Sade’s lyrics.
She doesn’t need any of it really, her voice is compelling enough that if it were just Sade and the spotlight that would be enough. But these elements lift the show to such a level that, walking out, you almost forgive the singer for taking so long to get back onto the stage – and into the spotlight – again.
She plays all the classics that have been etched their way into our hearts – Your Love is King, No Ordinary Love, Cherish the Day, Sweetest Taboo. In one instance, a city skyline fills the backdrop as a film noir scene is created, with Sade as the femme fatale. A curtain-like screen fills the top third of the stage, hanging over the street images, casting clues as to the story of the song that’s about to unfold: LA, Chicago, Key Largo…and as Smooth Operator begins the crowd cheers even more enthusiastically.
By Your Side is a gloriously uplifting hymn to devotion, while King of Sorrow is tender and aching. When Sade sings Pearls, her solitary figure standing in front of an orange sun, I am moved to tears, as her voice reaches a voracity when she reaches ‘hallelujah’.
I didn’t take many pics, and hardly tweeted. I felt too spellbound and caught up in the emotion of it all. Sade speaks about the immersive nature of making her music, in a piece by the Washington Post’s Chris Richards, which is why she took all these years off to spend time with her daughter. The process of making is an intense one for the singer, and the process of receiving it, here in this space, is an intense one for the audience too.
The story also talks about Sade’s thoughts on concert-goers chasing after digital moments to upload on YouTube, before others get to live the experience themselves. “It’s like a preview at a movie,” she says. “Everything is prequelled. Life is prequelled. Are we only living to upload it?”
Living the experience was made all the more magnificent by Sade’s four-piece band — saxophonist-guitarist Stuart Matthewman, bassist Paul S. Denman, keyboardist Andrew Hale — who were as impeccable in their play as they were in their dress.