A BP Concert Review

On a nostalgic night at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore, when raucous gospel church stomping is mixed with Temptations-styled spins, slides, shuffles, and crooning, it’s difficult to distinguish the old from the new. Raphael Saadiq’s new album, “The Way I See It,” a new downtown sound that’s an ode to Motown-Stax-Philly International eras, when R&B, was, well, R&B, is the crux of the show, but it’s when Saadiq sings his hits from the Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl days that the crowd sings along with the most fervor.On a black and white inspired set, Raphael Saadiq stands out in a mustard-colored suit, (is that a zoot suit?!)– black-framed glasses and a skinny black tie. Ram’s Head is intimate, standing room only-more after-work happy hour than concert setting, with a few tables for couples– giving the audience members a feeling that they are part of the show as they reach out to give Saadiq a pound whenever they feel like it and rest their drinks right on stage.After a 15-minute set from neo-soul/punk Southern California group, Tha Boogie, it seems like this is primarily the classy casual two-stepping crowd, more than the at-least-one-Colt-45-per-night getting down crowd. But as anticipation builds for Saadiq, the two-stepping gets a little more thunderous and the folks with the pink furry boots start to show up. By 8:45, the lights dim, the band comes out, and you hear: “Aii-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi!!!” from the previously calm crowd. Purses are dropped, bird calls ensue, and Saadiq runs out playing the bass guitar. There’s stomping, tambourines-and suddenly the two-step has morphed into a gospel stomp. He dives right into “Keep Marchin,’” an infectious and inspirational Temptations-meets-Marvin Gaye ditty that evokes images of fire hoses and barking German shepherds. He slows down the tempo, bringing in the holy rollers, double-clappers, and club heads, stretching it out for 5 minutes, before bringing it back up tempo, sending the crowd into a guttural roar.Then he brings them down to a romantic purr when he steps into “Love That Girl,” a song reminiscent of a Sam Cooke kind of innocent ecstasy, as he launches into 5-6-7-8 dance routines with his two dancers complete with hand rolling, high knee kicking, and double-clapping. By the time he gets to “100 Yard Dash,” he screams out, “I know y’all got some soul in Baltimore!! If you don’t move to the back! There’s leg room up in the front!” And all of a sudden, it’s more juke joint, than high school disco.  Then he launches into the Lucy Pearl hit, “Dance Tonight,” and the crowd is giving him pounds, singing, stomping, and clothes are coming off.He slows it down with “Just One Kiss,” and then with a Jackson Five-like falsetto on “Oh Girl,” a Joss Stone duet, and he and his two dancers are back to dance routines that end with freeze poses. Then he launches  into a medley of his old school hits: “Lay Your Head on My Pillow,” “It Never Rains in Southern California,” “Anniversary,” “Ask of You,” “Just Me and You.” By now the crowd has lost all inhibition and there’s back rolling and grinding in between high pitched screams, “take your times,” and lip poking.He switches it again (mind you he hasn’t broken a sweat yet) to “Be Here,” his song with D’Angelo (no, D’s not there. C’mon there’s only so much a crowd can take). The crowd is rocking it out, arms pumping, and the scene now resembles a mosh pit. Then he gets naughty, throwing off his tiny tie to the audience, opening his shirt, and telling the ladies, “This place is crowded, don’t know ’bout you, but I need some sex, some sex with you!” and launches into “Take a Walk,” then moves into “Sure Hope You Mean It,” and a gruff baritone voice in the back of the crowd screams out, “C’mon now!!” He stretches the song out for 10 more minutes, before he shuts it down.“The show was fabulous,” says 52-year-old Baltimore city worker, Deborah Hamilton, who is there with her girlfriend. “He puts on a classy show. It was old school and new school. I think I’m in love!!”But, wait, it ain’t over.He comes back out with the bass guitar and people start boxing each other out for their positions back in front of the stage.He finishes it up with “Never Give You Up,” with Stevie Wonder on the harmonica, (No, he ain’t there. C’mon people!) and raps it all up with his tribute to Katrina, “Big Easy,” complete with the trumpeting sounds of a New Orleans brass band (The Infamous Young Spoodie and the ReBirth Brass Band).As he finally ends it after a two hour church-meets-juke-joint-meets-teeny-bopper-concert, the drawers-down-to-the-back-of-their-knees thug set, the classy-casual set, the old-school set, and the healthy-eaters set, are all equally at ease and satisfied.

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