Jill Scott - Gibson Amphitheatre - 8/10/11
Better than ... drinks, dinner, and a movie.
No venue is too big for Jill Scott's voice. It wields the kind of deeply supported, belly-rumbling power every Broadway baby dreams of. She had no problem saturating the Gibson Amphitheatre with sound last night, even with what looked to be an almost sold-out crowd soaking it up. Is it wrong to wish, though, that she had performed in a much smaller space?
Of course, anything less than an amphitheatre, and Jill Scott's team would have had a legion of enraged fans on their hands. Over ten years ago the Philadelphia native released her debut, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, and concurrently became the queen of neo-soul (Erykah Badu has floated too high in the sky to sit on that throne). After a four-year hiatus, she put out her fourth studio album, The Light of the Sun, this past June, and watched it debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. The people are hungry to see their very real, very sexy, much loved leader. But last night she just felt so far away, and one thing Jill Scott has never been is inaccessible.
Called "Summer Block Party," the tour seems a little contrived. In a black tracksuit, Doug E. Fresh and DJ Jazzy Jeff did their parts--the entire amphitheatre was on its feet as they led them in dancing Da Butt, The Wop, The Running Man, and The Snake (you've now guessed the age of the audience) to Bell Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, and MC Lyte, who appeared briefly for a verse of "Paper Thin." If by the end of the night the ladies' feet were aching in their sky-high heels, they can blame this portion of the party.
Timothy Norris MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh
With no real pause in the action, and absolutely no trace of diva behavior, Jill Scott walked onstage. Dressed in silky black leggings, a tight, sparkly black and silver tunic, and glittering heels, she looked more likely to hit the club than the corner. We weren't fooled by the fact that she rapped Slick Rick's "La Di Da Di" very well while Doug E. Fresh beatboxed, or that by the end of the show she'd slipped out of her heels. She might still be Jilly from the block in attitude, but she's also holding six-inch stilettos in her hand.
To that, add: One of the joys of Jill Scott live is seeing her facial expressions. She's a great storyteller, and like a good Shakespearean actor, she acts ON the lyrics, not before or after. Part of the pleasure of a song like "Quick" is watching Jill make faces as she sings, "Said I wanted to lock you down, but you moved into my house, gave me a son." But those got lost in the Gibson.
If there was an upside to the large arena, it's that when Jill Scott unleashes that voice of hers, you better stand back. During the one-two punch of "Hate on Me" and "The Way," it almost felt like she was holding back a little because she knew we just couldn't handle the full force of her voice. She's probably right.
She also wanted to dance much more than she wanted to sing the simmering, between-the-sheets songs she's become known for. Finally, she slid into a sexy medley that included this summer's slowest burner, "So Gone (What My Mind Says)." That song should come with a cold shower.
But the best moment of the night belonged to the encore. She began singing "He Loves Me" as normal, but then she moved to the front of the stage, vocalizing. Suddenly, Jill Scott was performing her own opera, in Spanish. If only we'd been able to see her face.
The crowd: Old school date night. Whether the girls were vacuum-wrapped in mini-dresses or neo-hippie'd out in flowy blouses, the platform heels were high. Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man, and the place was full of 'em.
Random notebook dump: Kinda weird that people are eating popcorn in here. Babies are gonna get made later tonight.
Set list below.