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Meshell Ndegeocello – Love You Down (Ready for the World/INOJ cover)
As artists, it’s our life’s work to bleed–to open our souls to the world and give you, the reader and the listener, the sincere glimpse of the traffic or peace inside. Many musicians attempt to do this, but Meshell Ndegeocello has perfected the process of emotional exfoliation. On October 8th, 2009, she took the stage in front of an eager audience at the Black Cat, in Washington, DC. Ndegeocello walked into the Black Cat and hilariously so, they carded her and her band mates. She set the door politics aside, and ironically enough, her opening song lyrics from “Lola” were, “So you think you’re so f**king special,” and followed up with “Die Young, off of her newest album, Devil’s Halo. It’s an album that tells the stories, not of anyone in particular, but of the human experience and our quest for whatever is the subject of our happiness or pathos.
Known for the ways in which she pleasantly wounds and heals with her lyrics and ebbing bass, Ndegeocello gave nothing less in her near hour long performance. She followed up with “The Sloganeer-Paradise” from The World has made Me the Man of My Dreams. Definitely a fan favorite, the chorus is somewhat of an anthem of the accused or criticized. These were no plantation lullabies, but still proclamations of suffering’s fruit–empowerment and growth. Next Ndegeocello bestowed a gift upon her listeners, and performed “Fool of Me” the much loved track from her album, Bitter (1999). It’s a track that creates a wonderful thickness of “shared experiences” and as she sang the words, echoes of everyone’s stories of heartbreak blended in with the artist. The beautiful thing about Ndegeocello’s shows and music is that it makes one wholly vulnerable and connected. Her raw emotion and unwillingness to be anything but authentic reverberates in her lyrics, voice and down thru her fingertips when she lays them upon the guitar or keys of her choosing. Even as the set progressed with another track from The World has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, “Solomon”, a song for her son poured out into the crowd. An intimate ballad is “Solomon,” one expressing extreme gratitude to “the Creator” for the gift of parenthood, wishes for her son—some that are surely wishes for herself, as well.
But, Ndegeocello’s music doesn’t keep you in one place emotionally. Her next track, Dead N****a Blvd., was introduced by a simple question put to fans, “Are you free?” The spoken word that followed, begs you to answer or at least explore the bondages we create, be it wealth or fame, illusion of control, or an idea of self. Offering a dose of existentialism on a Thursday night is the Ndegeocello way, you stand there questioning and searching–all while just trying to take it all in. Her guitar and voice fill your soul up to the point of overflowing, in that slow bath-tub filling way. You find yourself connecting with the strangers in the room, both aware of the hurts you’ve inflicted and the ones you’re received. “Faithful,” is the perfect vessel for that connection, and it was performed beautifully, pushing some listeners to the point of spilling. Though, Ndegeocello can take you to those melancholy recesses of the heart, she doesn’t intend to keep you there.
Her final song, White Girl (Devil’s Halo), explodes with both lyrical and musical lightness, “White girl..she tell me that she loves me…it’s pure and beautiful.” After one more song, the artist’s set ended, but “White Girl” would continue to fall from the lips of listeners, until an encore performance hushed the crowd with memories triggered by the track, “Love You Down.” Originally made popular by the band, Ready for the World (1986) and later covered by INOJ (1998), this cover is not quite the poppy love song from your teenage years, but something entirely different. The INOJ version in particular is set against this “quick to burn” type melody, forever reminding us of the way youthful love arrests us, willingly, with lust as the usual suspect. The Ndegeocello version is slower and sexier, infused with the pulse of the heavy drum beats of passion. Perhaps her reinvention of the song denotes the wisdom gained through love’s ills and loves, while, stating the stark difference between lust and the making of love with the hope that it…stays.
So, how was the show you ask? With an amazing musician like Ndegeocello, you know the music’s going to be smashing. The better question to ask when you know her music is what did you feel? Don’t get it twisted, it isn’t therapy, it IS the unmasking of human emotions set to sound and song, which is something quite different. Though, you should experience it for yourself, provided that you’re brave enough to shrug off the numbing agent’s in today’s world and really stop and feel. I dare you.
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BONUS: Photo of opening act Kokayi with DJ Cam Jus