Andra Day emerged to taped strains of The Flamingos’ classic “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and thus the tone was set for a performance that was nothing less than captivating. Taking a page from her best known song, “Rise Up,” Day encouraged just that — a spiritual uprising — from the modest but enthralled Saturday afternoon crowd.
Top 5 Moments in Day’s set:
Day covers Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.” Day and the band she referred to as “family” gave their all to Simone’s song about the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers — Day reaching out to the crowd with her arms, her guitarist seeming to dig into the material with his body. Day introduced the song by saying she pays “tribute to the greats” and that the message of Simone’s song should be “inspiring, particularly right now.” The powerful wail of Day’s voice made lyrics “gotten me so upset” sound like she was calling out “Ferguson.”
Look, no make-up! Early in the set, Day told the crowd, “This is a conversation we’re having with you. Let’s talk about learning lessons.” And after embodied renditions of “Forever Mine,” “Gold,” “Honey on Fire,” and “Gin and Juice (Let Go My Hand),” she sat down at her black stool to preach self-acceptance. Her make-up and appearance once controlled her, Day said, and she didn’t feel good about herself without putting on a mask. Kendrick Lamar’s “No Make Up” helped her get past that, she said, to a “more real relationship with myself, my God, my people.” Day then spent more than a minute wiping the pin-up girl makeup off her face — from bright red lipstick to darkened eyebrows — a move she has made in concert before but which is no less moving for its repetition. Her call to “get real” was met by cheers and calls of “You’re beautiful!” from the crowd. The song was, like all the others, flawless.
Keyboardist Charles Jones takes the lead. About halfway through the groovin’ set, Day generously gave up center stage. She called out, “we’re gonna take it all the way back,” acknowledged her four bandmates as “my brothers,” and gushed about Texan Jones as a collaborator and vocal talent in his own right. Jones grinned, leaned back, exuberantly playing the keys, and giving his all to choruses of “Where would I be without you?” while Day harmonized on the sidelines.
Day calls us to “Rise Up.” “My prayer for this song is that it’s something encouraging,” Day said, dedicating the anthem to people who struggle with depression and self-acceptance. Day said her own transformation of self-love infuses all of her music. “That level of freedom is unprecedented,” she said. “I’ve experienced it. It is so powerful.” And with that, Day launched into a soul-stirring rendition of “Rise Up.”
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
The crowd raised arms in praise, and tears were wiped away and hugs exchanged by audience members as the song ended.
A queen covers Queen. After “Rise Up,” Day closed with Queen’s “I Want It All,” dropping to her knees, back bend onto the stage, crying out “People do you hear me, just give me the sign / It ain’t much I’m asking, if you want the truth / Here’s to the future for the dreams of youth / I want it all, I want it all.”
Andra Day is the future of soul, even as she so deftly evokes the past. Hers is the powerful voice of right now.