Ray Ray In The Park

words and pics by robinho

It’s great to see a master at the top of his game and with a back catalogue as rich and deep as Raphael Saadiq’s, Giant Step struck gold with their Summer Stage headline act yesterday afternoon. Looking crisp and sharp and dazzling in white, Saadiq breezed onto stage wearing his trademark thick-rimmed black specs and melted a roasting capacity crowd with an injection of pure, cool, quality and a band as tight as their sartorial precision.

Ray Ray has been touring with these musicians for a while now and it shows – no cue is missed, no beat dropped, and it allows Saadiq the freedom to fully enjoy each song as he takes us on a journey of hits old and new, reminding us in the process of his importance and reach as an artist and producer since the mid-1990s.

“I wanna dance tonight, I wanna toast tonight…” – the Lucy Pearl bounce kicks off proceedings and the crowd is instantly won over, followed shortly thereafter by Be Here, the infectious slow-groove completed not by D’Angelo this time but ably compensated by Saadiq’s superb backing singers. It’s a wonder that even after a few songs Saadiq doesn’t appear to have broken a sweat, but the man is on another level. Last year Q-Tip rode the sun’s energy to whip the crowd into a frenzy, but Saadiq’s smile and gorgeous voice are all it takes to recharge and energise the faithful.

From the opening chords to Lay Your Head On My Pillow, every pair of female eyes is transfixed, and whilst the ladies sing along in dreamy contemplation, brothers stand around equally enamored wondering if its ok to show it. We’re in medley mode now for Anniversary and Ask Of You, and though this is New York, and not even Brooklyn (which likes to think it’s New York), the boy from Oakland is clearly at home, but he stops to pay tribute to fellow Oakland native Walter Hawkins who passed earlier this week.

From the early days there comes a treat in the form of Let’s Get Down, but when the strings open for Get Involved the crowd loses it, and Saadiq’s standing as one of America’s best performers is secure. The instantly recognizable bass line to Skyy Can You Feel Me creeps in to announce what will be the final number and a timely breeze blows across the auditorium, but the goose bumps on my arm have nothing to do with the wind. A special mention has to go to Saadiq’s man on the keys, “Little Charlie” from Houston, who may have raised the biggest smile of the day with a solo on Skyy Can You Feel Me that damn near took the roof off, and this is an open-air venue.

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