photos + review: solange @ the black cat 2.20.2013

How many people are here tonight because the thought “this is the closest I’ll ever be to Beyonce” crossed their mind? Once the line outside Black Cat started building up, I found my answer pretty quickly: a strange mix of Solange fans who knew her before True, their curious friends that had tagged along, and yes, many newcomers who could not believe that they had the chance to get up close and personal with a member of the Knowles family in such a small setting. Even the venue of choice was a surprise, considering Solange will be making many festival appearances (including Sweetlife) this summer.

But here’s an indisputable fact: Solange has crafted her own musical identity, owned it brilliantly, and leaves no room for anyone to question how she measures up to anyone else in her family. Every song in the short set is an accurate embodiment of her personality– warm and nearly familiar, but something about the beat is aggressive, pushing you to dance. Standing still feels wrong.

The band takes the stage before Solange, and they’re as well dressed as you’d expect them to be. It’s made clear very quickly that this is secondary to their precise playing as they lay down a solid foundation for the night. The room is buzzing by the time Solange appears, “Don’t Let Me Down” is stunning, and at this point we remember to rub the stars from our eyes and start dancing– after all, when Solange demands it of you, it’s rude not to. She breaks it down with a few choreographed steps along with her band– who, by the way, are incredibly skilled; swapping instruments throughout the set and working around numerous sound issues. Following up with “T.O.N.Y.” was a no-brainer at that point.

Solange was gracious with her set– despite its brevity, it boasted a smart selection of all three of her albums that assured her new fans understood that she was well established before this fall, and made them fall in love even harder. Such strong songs, delivered by an even stronger band, held up surprisingly well in the face of the sound issues, and once they were resolved all hesitation disappeared. The real party started. “Looks Good With Trouble” and “Locked In Closets” were perfect deep grooves, towing the line between songs to shimmy to, and ballads to sway to.

No one could be upset that Losing You was second to last, because the rest of the set dazzled with songs that everyone was desperate to learn the words to. One of her first singles, “Crush”, made an appearance greeted by appreciative fangirl (and boy) shrieks, and the song has grown up quite a bit since it debuted six years ago. Solange’s voice has always been sweet, always warm, but it’s become stronger. As a result, other older ballads like “Cosmic Journey” share the same compelling power as anything from True.

After the show, we find out from the Cat that a bad mic was the source of the night’s sound issues. But to be honest, we’d almost forgotten about the sound ordeal, because the opening numbers still triumphed through it. Even while telling the sound guy to get his shit together onstage, Solange did so with a warm smile and a sweet serenade. “Lovers In The Parking Lot”, True’s next single, triumphed over every other memorable moment of the set, maybe even the encore of “Sandcastle Disco”, and reinforced the strength of Solange’s voice, her bright and sunny on-stage charm. Surely we’ll be falling over ourselves to snag tickets to two nights at 9:30 amidst the spring festival circuit, and surely those nights will be amazing. But I highly doubt anyone will feel as lucky as this particular crowd did– instead of bearing witness to a star on the rise, we were part of it. Waiting in line together, dancing together, sitting on the side of the stage together, sharing in frustrations together. With little divide between the floor and the stage, we were part of a give and take of inspiration and awe that shadowed all else, and won’t soon be forgotten.