OAKLAND — Raphael Saadiq is from here. East Oakland, specifically. He’s an alum of Castlemont High, his mom worked at Highland Hospital. She and several of his siblings were in attendance at the show Noise Pop festival show Friday night.
We know all this because Saadiq told a lot of stories during his hometown show at the Fox Theater on Friday night. There were stories about growing up in Oakland, about shopping at Trader Joe’s, about his mom abandoning several dogs in the park. Some introductions lasted longer than the song they introduced.
If any at the sold-out show had a problem with that, they didn’t show it. Oakland loves its native daughters and sons and it’s clear Saadiq is no exception.
He began with “I’m Feeling Love” and “Something Keeps Calling,” from his 2019 album, Jimmy Lee—named after his oldest brother who died of a heroin overdose, as he explained later in the show. This set a fairly upbeat initial tone by his standards. They were still throwback R&B slow jams, Saadiq’s specialty, but some of the more danceable versions of the style.
They also gave him a chance to show off his underrated guitar chops. Though he didn’t always have the guitar, when he did it was almost always a highlight. His guitar solo during “Something Keeps Calling” was especially fantastic.
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From there he jumped to his first solo hit, 1995’s “Ask of You,” which he began by playing a keyboard while the keyboardist moved to a piano. Later in the same song he went back to the guitar, being one of the rare multi-instrumentalists who play a variety of instruments not just in the same show but from one verse to the next.
After a few more songs, Saadiq left the stage while his keyboardist played a long piano solo. It was possibly too long for some, judging by the confused murmurs several minutes in. Eventually Saadiq returned in a slightly different coat and hat, joined by opening act DJ Duggz, as the piano recital transitioned to “Blind Man.”
Duggz silently performed an interpretive dance to the song as Saadiq sang, still accompanied by the pianist. Interpretive dances are not common to concerts, possibly for good reason, but as far as interpretive dances go, Duggz did an excellent job. It was an unexpected talent from a DJ, to say the least.
From that point the show slowed way down, not just in the tempo of the songs but in pacing. The stories got longer and longer, tangents started to take hold. At one point, in the middle of a story, Saadiq’s brother and Tony! Toni! Toné! bandmate D’wayne Wiggins walked onto the stage to give him a hug. The cheers, and the hopes of a reunion duet, were quickly quashed when Wiggins immediately left the stage and Saadiq continued the story; he was just there to see the show.
His performance of the Tony! Toni! Toné! song “Anniversary” especially was well-done and a crowd-pleaser, though knowing another band member was mere feet away makes one wonder what could have been. He also performed “Dance Tonight,” by another of his bands, short-lived supergroup Lucy Pearl.
Saadiq ended on a high note, bringing all the opening acts and several members of his family on stage to dance along to “Still Ray.” It was a non-interpretive dance.
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Opening the show was singer-songwriter Jamila Woods. Excelling as a poet, lyricist and performer, Woods nearly stole the show from the two acts to come after her.
She began with “Zora” and “Giovanni,” from 2019’s Legacy! Legacy!, an album on which each song is named after someone who inspires her. The powerful lyrics were aided by a suitably powerful band; her drummer was especially talented, and her keyboardist played a keytar solo as unexpected and vicious as the black instrument with red trim she played it on.
The mix of songs from her latest album and Heavn, its 2016 predecessor, was perfectly suited for a concert and did a fantastic job building energy for the show.
Between Woods and Saadiq was the aforementioned DJ Duggz, who performed a DJ set primarily of ’90s R&B and hip-hop. His tendency to occasionally overdo the commentary was made less an issue by a sense of humor. A good mix of songs with a good flow, punctuated by sometimes self-effacing jokes, was a solid lead-in to Raphael Saadiq’s set.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.