They say there’s no church in the wild, but last night saw a musical revival of the highest order. (Sold out) Service was led by rock god Lenny Kravitz, along with Raphael Saadiq, at a sold-out show at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The congregation was a mélange of hip baby boomers, wonderstruck tourists, feisty tweens, and, of course, soul sistas and brothas. Even celebrities like Denzel Washington and Kravitz’s daughter Zoe came to worship at the altar of rock.
The combined energies of the performers and the audience resulted in a show that rivaled even the most moving religious experience. If you’ve never seen either performers in concert before, here’s what went down.
Though he was armed with a glittering blue guitar and backed by super-talented musicians, opening act Raphael Saadiq tempered his usual stage theatrics and gave straightforward performances of his more recent material. He started with the soulful “Good Man”, then bounced into the funky “Heart Attack” before moving onto the rockabilly swing of the Little Richard-inspired “Radio.”
“Last night, I was in Boston,” he said. Naturally, the crowd responded with boos and jeers. “But tonight,” he continued, “I’m in New York. Stand up, New York! Where you at?”
The crowd stood and launched into a soul clap as Saadiq and three members of his band, including the heavyset, dark-suited keyboardist, performed a bit of Motown-era choreography that brought the house down.
“I don’t know about you,” Saadiq said, breathless, “but I need some sex!”
From there, the mood changed as the band began playing a funky, horn-heavy groove as the spotlight shone full beam on the singer, casting him in an almost divine light.
Saadiq then introduced his guitar player, a man he affectionately called Mr. 20/20. With his shades, scruffy beard, and ball cap, Mr. 20/20 looked like he belonged in the stands at a NASCAR race as opposed to being onstage with this crew of funk enthusiasts. But none of that mattered once he started playing a lengthy blues tune worthy of any Mississippi juke joint.
The audience got loose to “Stone Rollin’,” an homage to the funk rock of Sly and the Family Stone, and then got downright romantic to “Skyy, Can You Feel Me,” a sultry jam from Saadiq’s first solo album. He then closed his set with a rousing cover of The 5th Dimension’s “Let the Sunshine In.”
After a brief intermission, the house lights darkened and the crowd, pregnant with anticipation, began to go wild. As the powerful guitar riffs of “Come On Get it” filled the auditorium, the cluster of pyramidal light structures that were part of the set design began flashing in syncopation. Lenny Kravitz was finally on stage, and the crowd couldn’t have been any more excited. Church was in definitely full swing.
Without pause, Kravitz and his eclectic circus of bandmates followed with the funk rock of “Always On The Run” as images of sexy, undulating women were projected on the huge triangular screen at the rear of the stage. The next jam was “American Woman,” the first of many songs in which Kravitz went head-to-head with Afroed guitarist Craig Ross. As expected, the audience ate it all up.
Kravitz thanked the audience for welcoming him “back to the U.S.” after he’d been living and touring abroad the past year. “I’m back in New York City, my hometown,” he said. “Bed Stuy! Brooklyn!” He said he was glad to be performing at Radio City, and shared an funny yet emotional story of how his grandmother would dress him in a wool suit (“itchy as a motherfucker,” Kravitz joked) to see shows at the historic venue in which he was now performing.
The next number was the soulful torch song “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” and was dedicated to “those who still believe in love.” As evidenced by the number of couples dancing and making out in their seats, there’s quite a few people who do still believe.
Frenetic images of New York City flashed onscreen as Kravitz performed “Mr. Cab Driver,” which was followed by a beautiful and solemn trumpet solo from Ludwig Lewis. When Kravitz sang the title track from his latest album Black and White America, the song’s uplifting lyrics were emblazoned on the screen along with some old family photographs. “That’s my story,” Kravitz told the crowd.
Bassist Gail Ann Dorsey provided heft for the next song, “Fields of Joy,” then the band launched into another unabashed love song, “Stand By My Woman.” As if those in attendance weren’t devout enough, the next song found Kravitz on his acoustic guitar, instructing his disciples to “Believe.”
The high-octane “Stand” came next and propelled those few sitting down to their feet. It was a song I did not care for in my previous review of Kravitz’s latest album but it certainly a crowd-pleaser — even I clapped along. It was followed by the frenetic, uptempo, Led Zep-ish “Rock and Roll is Dead” and the New Wave punk of “Rock Star City Life,” oddly, another song I didn’t like initially but proved to be much better live.
Kravitz’s performance of “Where Are We Runnin'” erupted into a muscular jam session, one that culminated with a cacophonous horn-heavy denouement. The audience, still riding their collective musical high, helped Kravitz sing the verses to his mega-hit “Fly Away.”
Finally, the band played Kravitz’s funky, signature hit “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” and the singer’s larger-than-life visage appeared on the large screen, captivating the audience. At the song’s climax, Kravitz raised his fist and eyes skyward and mouthed, “Thank you.”
The lights went out once again, and the crowd endured the darkness, clapping, cheering, begging Kravitz to return to the stage for an encore. The prayers were answered: a single light shone down on the microphone stand and Kravitz walked out to face his fans once more. He thanked the crowd for coming out, for making this “homecoming” show a special one, and was seemingly on the verge of tears as he sat on the edge of the stage and, accompanied by Ross, sang an acoustic version of “Push.”
Kravitz then turned to someone offstage. “How much time we got?” he asked. “Ten minutes? Better make this quick. I’ve got to respect my union brothers.” He introduced the members of his band, then got some good news via his earpiece.
“Oh, now I’ve got fifteen minutes? The union angels are looking down on me,” he said, winking at the audience.
Kravitz gave props to John Lennon and professed a bit of despair over the state of contemporary music, saying, “I remember when music used to mean something.” He then led the crowd in an extended rendition of “Let Love Rule.” It was all very sweet, actually, to see such a disparate group of people sing, in harmony, of harmony.
And in what was probably the biggest rock star moment in a night full of them, Kravitz ran out into the audience, into one of the rows, stood on a seat, and raised his fist in the air.
“You’ve got to believe,” Kravitz had said earlier in the evening. If there were any non-believers in the house, they surely converted last night. Kravitz’s words, and music, were gospel.
Rafael Saadiq Setlist
“Let the Sunshine In”
Lenny Kravitz Setlist
“Come on and Get It”
“Are you gonna go my way”
“It Aint Over Till It’s Over”
“Trumpet Solo Intro to Black and White in America”
“Black and White In America”
“Rock Star City Life”
“Let Love Rule”