I own three albums by Ledisi but, quiet as it's kept, I'd never seen her live. I've had opportunities, but never seemed to have the time or the resources when the shows come up. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to see the songstress perform this Monday at NYC's Samsung Experience store. The show, a live listening event for her album Pieces Of Me thrown in conjunction by Verve Forecast, Centric, and DigiWaxx, made me realize that I'd been doing myself a great disservice by missing her shows all those times.
The evening's MC, comedian and Centric host Chuck Nice, described a performance by Ledisi as "like going to church in a tornado," and that's exactly what the crowd got when she launched into her performance. The first song of the evening was "Shine," a dedication to her supporters and fans that have helped her along the way. The song, flecked with hints of Al Green, went over pretty well with most of the crowd cheering for more.
Following "Shine," Ledisi took the crowed to church with the gospel-tinged "What Can Be Higher Than This," the only non-Pieces track of the night. It's beautiful when an artist can perform a song live and make it even better than it is on CD, and this live version of "Higher" was absolutely heavenly.
Taking a bit of time to talk to the audience between sets, Ledisi told the audience how she admired women who took charge in love. The band started a bluesy groove as the singer let us know that this was the "pimp side of Ledisi." The song, "Hate That You Love Me," showed Ledisi's voice, a perfect marriage of jazz-inflection and R&B sass, in all its full glory. Here, she turned into a worldly seductress complete with shimmying and popping her (dress) collar.
Next up was the reggae-influenced "Simple." Ledisi introduced the song, saying that it almost didn't make the album. It would've been a shame if it hadn't. The tune seemed effortless, and she got a chance to really show off at the end, doing some scatting that would make Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn proud.
After that number, Ledisi eased into "Pieces of Me." Personally, when I first heard this song back a month or so ago, I was underwhelmed. After the fiery songs released from Turn Me Loose, I was expecting something spectacular. This performance, however, redeemed the song for me. There's something about it that lends itself to being performed live. After the first chorus, I even found myself singing along with the rest of the crowd.
The show closer, "Shut Up," was reminiscent of '80's R&B radio, with an upbeat bounce that contradicted the song's title. While the song is about her shaking off her haters -- a topic that generally annoys me -- Ledisi still made it fun by calling on the audience to sing out the chorus. After she was finished, she let the band play on as she was whisked to do press about her upcoming album.
Calling Ledisi a powerhouse performer would be an understatement. At a point during the show, one of the crowd members noticed me taking notes and tried to influence my opinion of the show. He didn't have to worry about a bad review, though. Ultimately, I left the night knowing two things: 1) I'll definitely be purchasing Pieces Of Me when it drops June 14th and 2) I won't be passing up my next chance to see Ledisi perform again.
[Photos: Lisa Brown]