Sade in Concert: Who Says It’s Never As Good As the First Time?

Falling in love is easy.  It’s staying in love that’s hard.

Coming off a long-awaited studio album (Soldier of Love) that was just okay and followed by a greatest hits compilation that was threadbare and felt more like product than anything inspired, I had resigned myself to missing Sade when her tour rolled into the Jerome Schottenstein Center on July 11.

Much to my considerable surprise, my old Columbus Post colleague, Charles Farmer, must have listened to “A Little Help From My Friends” because he came through with the hook-up and the next thing I knew I’m squeezing into the extremely cramped, absolutely no leg room seats of the Schottenstein Center.

Like I really cared about the seating arrangements.  Sade apologized for the long interval between appearances (10 years!).   The last time I saw Sade live was on September 10, 2001 and the next day the world went mad and wiped away any lasting memories.

This was my third time seeing Sade in concert and I think I know what the big difference this time where she always put on a great show, now she was upping the ante and going for a great performance.

i briefly thought about writing a review of the show, but you can read some perfectly adequate ones here, here and here.  It’s the same show in New York as it is in Columbus as it will be in Kansas City.  The songs remain the same.  The outfits she wears remain the same.   The set list of songs remain the same.

Which is not to say it all doesn’t totally kick ass.  Maybe it’s because she made us wait a decade for this, but as Sade told Rolling Stone in June before kicking off her North America tour in Baltimore, “When I do something, I want it to be great, like I want it to be the best suit you’ve ever made if you’re a tailor, not polyester.”

Anyway, I’ve never understood what the point was to concert reviews were in the first place?   If you went, you already know what you thought of the show.   if you didn’t, what good is it to tell you what you missed?   With a movie review you may or may not go see the film.   A book or CD review probably won’t convince you to buy it if you dislike the author or musician.   If you didn’t catch Sade in Columbus are you going to fly

"Heard ya missed me. Well, I'm back."

When you’re 52 years old, still smokin’ hot, still able to sell out arenas where other acts can’t, you know you’ve got something special going on and that’s always been what sets Sade apart from anyone else.  She doesn’t have to parade around in her underwear (though she did show a bit more cleavage in her third wardrobe change of the night., but I’m only observing, not complaining).   She can get away with some pretty exorbiant ticket prices because nobody knows when she might do this again.  Maybe sooner than another ten years and maybe not ever again.  You just never can say for certain when the subject is Sade.

That’s not entirely true.  I can say for certainly a few things.

Songs that didn’t work for me on the album sound better performed live:  I have complained Sade’s last two albums (Soldier of Love, Lovers Rock) were much too low-key and low energy.  You could gently sway to them, but there wasn’t a lot of danceable tracks anywhere to be found.  But “Bring Me Home” and “Skin” really come alive live.

Sade is a Band.  And with nine people on stage it’s a big band at that.  Sade takes the stage with her usual suspects, Paul S. Denman, Andrew Hale and their secret weapon Stuart Matthewman, who can go ahead and release a solo album any time now because he’s a damn fine saxophonist.  There’s an extra guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist  and two background singers.  What surprised me most was there’s a LOT of guitars on stage as at some points during the two hours and 15 minutes of the concert, there are four guys on guitar and bass while the Lady is doing her thing.   Sade isn’t just a band, they are a rock band when they wanna be,

Production values are first-rate: The sound mixing is nearly perfect even in a converted basketball arena.  I’ve seen Sade in a smaller hall, an outdoor venue and now an arena.  This time the mix was terrific as the drums kicked, the guitars twanged and the vocals were clear and clean.  The stage features platforms that rise and lower the band and trap doors where Sade enters and exits.   There’s no messing around as opening act John Legend started his set promptly at 7:30 and was off by 8:30 and Sade was on by 9:00.  This train runs smooth and on time.

The torch I carry for Sade had never dimmed, but had flickered somewhat due to the half-speed effort of Soldier of Love and The Ultimate Collection.   I need not have doubted, because whatever she was holding back she’s giving it all on the stage.  When she stands alone on the stage to sing “Pearls” it’s all out there and she’s singing as powerfully as she ever has.  Sade has never had great range, but she has a great discography of hits and album tracks that are just as beloved as the songs you know by heart.

You could say I was impressed.  The only place I would have rather been that night was backstage after the show, but I would have only made a babbling fool of myself, so it’s probably for the best we were both spared the embarrassment.

If this time is the last time it was a mighty fine time indeed.