Sade. Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney. December Ninth & Tenth, 2011.
There are now two kind of people in this world; those who have seen Sade live, and those who haven’t. I’m sorry, but seriously, …mygod.
Fans who thought that waiting 9 years for Eminem to come back down was a long time, Ms. Smooth Operator herself had not graced our shores since 1986. I was minus two years old.
As the dust settles on that weekend beginning the 9th of December, I only now realise how sad this fact is. To think this country, and more importantly, this generation has missed so much of an artist’s musical impression, I feel especially sad to know I missed so much of a career that I would have treasured so much. And with hints being made that this will be her last world tour, we’ve almost certainly seen the last of her and her extremely talented troupe on our shores. Knowing that is agonising.
Firstly a little background in case you need to be caught up to speed. Sade (pronounced Shar-day, for the non-knowers), is a Grammy award-winning smooth jazz band formed in 1983, fronted by lead vocalist Sade Adu. Yes, she is the centrepiece of the band, but it is still a band. Yes, she is 51, but my god, if people looked as good as her at that age, cosmetic surgery wouldn’t be a thing. And yes, I can’t even front, 3 years ago, I wouldn’t have known how to pronounce “Sade” either.
So having a little prior knowledge going in, I knew this concert would be good, but just how good I hadn’t a clue. What I left with was nothing short of amazement. Literally speechless, exiting the arena that Friday night instantly incited the relentless reliving of experiences and moments that I had only just experienced, running through my head at a million miles an hour. Certain moments were actually incomprehensible; I just couldn’t figure it out. Nothing I had seen that night was completely unbelievable, or seemingly impossible or anything like that, it was just the way every piece of this performance puzzle fit so perfectly with each other, constructing such a visually and aurally addictive final product, that it actually crossed into perplexing territory. These thoughts that ran so rampantly, quickly changed tune, into immense desire. Desire to return to this fantastical world that evoked musical emotions in me that nothing ever had, if only for another two hours. Desire to find a way to make that happen. Luckily, a couple months earlier the Hunter Valley show had been moved to Sydney, and consequences of this move meant that unsold tickets were forced to be sold at 2 for 1 prices. Now, it must be said, purchasing platinum tickets for slightly less than what I paid for gold ones, to see what was the most incredible event I had ever witnessed for a second time, well that was maybe the best hashtag winning moment of my entire life thus far.
There is a word to describe this concert concisely, and that word is flawless. In a very literal sense. And in reference to Sade as a band, as a show, as an experience, as well as, as Sade, the artist. Lines filled the Entertainment Centre in ways I hadn’t ever experienced, or even knew possible. Vocal lines, harmony lines, drum lines, saxophone lines, guitar lines, all precisely delivered to reach a musical composite and amalgamation that shot straight for the heart. It was more than music this time around. But what brought this show above just musical absolution, and onto a whole new level, was presentation and visual accompaniment. These lines I mentioned, seemed to continue from the music and slot nicely into visual iterations. From the beams of light projecting from the Entertainment Centre roof, to the fixed-on-stage lighting, to the actual projections webbed over curtains and draping, which at moments dropped down to transform the stage into a fascinating box of light and sound, it all served to create the most unbelievably surreal experience of my life. I guess the big thing wass the consistency; it wasn’t just a couple or a few wow moments throughout the night, it was WOW!!! every single song that played. Nothing was repeated, nothing was rushed, everything came packaged together and fitted perfectly forging perhaps the best early christmas present I could’ve hoped for.
Everything, absolutely everything was without fault; from the manner in which the set played out, each song complementing what preceded it, and what will proceed, with such delicate & meticulous attention, to the impeccable instrumental arrangement that was always spacious even at the most complicated of times, and the sound engineering, so much so that the perfectly pitched toms of the drum kit shone when they were meant to, something that everyone feels and sub-consciously notices, but only musicians would know how to place into words. Character, warmth, sharpness, it was all there, and was all so aurally engaging.
For any kind of entertainment, story is a big deal for me. Other aspects of a production can be flawed, but a well delivered story will really decide on whether or not I call something entertaining, or connect with it in any way. We all know music is based largely on story-telling, especially lyrical based music and Sade’s music places emphasis on this being heavy on story-telling and emotionally vulnerable moments. But it wasn’t just this that envoked such a high level of output during this performance, it was this, paired with every single light that was shone, every silhouetted projection, every band movement, everything was just so perfect, that the stories being told through the music were rendered an entirely new dimension. In my opinion, the way this was done would rival even the best music videos in attempting to compliment a musical story so well.
The ways in which the colours used through lighting, and costume changes complemented each song’s mood and feel further enhanced this idea of visual story even more so. The fresh greens of the smooth Kiss Of Life, the slick blues of No Ordinary Love, or the cool as hell black and whites of the rocked-up Love Is Found (above), everything was, and I know I keep using this word but, just so perfect. The way in which the floor cleared for just Sade, and the sun, to perform Pearls was so magnificently complimenting of the lyrics and melody, as it shifted all attention to those very aspects of a song with such conceptual strength and emotion.
Smooth Operator was perhaps the most entertaining song of the night, thanks majorly to it’s prelude story. I can’t even begin to explain it, just watch the video:
In what was easily the most special part of the night, was Sade herself declaring that they were about to perform a song for the very first time. This notion was compounded by the fact that Australia was one of, if not the final leg of their world tour, and that they had already performed in Perth. I had my doubts, and was curious to see what she said the next night. Sure enough, she said that they had just performed it the previous night for the first time. Not only was the song that proceeded, The Safest Place, good, but it was easily my favourite of the night. Simple, elegant, musical delivery and melody as good as humanly possible. Stunning.
So many moments, far too many to list.
I hadn’t been this affected, this inspired for a long time, years perhaps. And I’m not talking about musical inspiration alone. it was like being on a quick but compelling tour of every single way in which emotions and experiences can be created, with a few lights, some instruments and a voice. Joy, excitement, sadness, anxiousness, empowerment…everything was there. I always knew music had this power, that’s what always drew me to it. But to see such a vivacious example of how it can have all of these effects, in all these ways inside and outside of music, well I had just never actually seen it before.
Even Sade’s comedic routine when introducing the band at the end of the night was hilarious; making a joke out of her African percussionists african name; “this is Anatututsweneagogobagatutudalatimdigala…..no, this is the only black man you’re even going to meet, called Karl Van Den Bossche“,
For me personally, before the 9th of December, my diminishing interests in all kinds of entertainment had been in full-throttle-GO-mode, little has been entertaining me as of late, particularly in music. Sade managed to single-handedly restore my love for music., and inspire me in a thousand more ways than one.
Shots to Matthew Hocter for the images.