“What am I gonna sing?” Erykah Badu asked the audience with a smile and a shrug. The challenge facing the performer: transforming one of her barely-still-classifiable-as-neo-soul songs into a country take.
It was one of the many tasks she’d be faced with as part of Friday night’s free Red Bull Soundclash event at Dallas’ Victory Plaza. Over the course of the evening’s so-called competition with Oklahoma’s Shiny Toy Guns, Badu and her beat-making collective the Cannabinoids would also offer up dub- and ballad-inspired renditions of songs from the singer’s catalog — as well as impressive funked-up renditions of Shiny Toy Guns’ “Ghost Town” and “Le Disko.”
But the current mission appeared to leave the Dallas native at a loss — or so Badu led her audience to believe, leaving out the detail that, for the past week, both groups had been practicing their sets together in a North Dallas rehearsal space.
“Goddammit, I don’t know!” the singer continued, maintaining her perplexed front before giving in and laughing at the facade. “Gimme a ‘Yeehaw!’ everybody!”
The crowd, already reduced to putty at this point, obliged. Badu’s Cannabinoids then let loose a rolling country bass line. A few turntable scratches and computer-generated blips later, and Badu too joined in on the fun, skipping in place and unleashing a hokey twang upon her New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War track, “Soldier.”
Were it a completely off-the-cuff interpretation, it would’ve been mind-blowing. But even rehearsed, the song, surprisingly catchy in this capacity, served as a testament to Badu’s genius. Rightfully, the eclectic audience — an odd mix of hipsters, college football fans in town for the weekend’s Red River Shootout and Dallas Stars fans confused by the stages outside their team’s American Airlines Center — was floored.
Over the course of the competition — which consisted of each act covering a handful of the other’s songs (and the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye”), then their own songs in various styles and one more with the help of a surprise guest — Shiny Toy Guns, on stage at the opposite end of the plaza, kept applause-o-meter-judged match surprisingly tight.
Much of that was a result of the electro-rock act’s high-energy performance and emphasis on crowd participation. But the fact that the microphones used to judge the crowd’s responses were located almost two-thirds of the way toward Shiny Toy Guns’ stage? Surely that helped, too.
Because, make no mistake, this was Badu’s night — and, mostly, her crowd as well. Her edge showed even with the surprise guest: While Shiny Toy Guns enlisted the help of a Scandinavian DJ apparently named Billy Sex Crime, Badu employed fellow Dallas luminary Tim Delaughter of the Polyphonic Spree, whose contributions to the night included skittish drumming, a few guitar riffs and, most interestingly, tweaking a handheld gizmo to add even more shrieks to the Cannabinoid’s computer-produced sound.
“You can go see a show any night,” Shiny keys player Jeremy Dawson said as the rest of the musicians jammed behind him and the event came to a close. “But, tonight, you saw a performance –and you didn’t pay a thing.”
Maybe Dawson was simply glossing over the fact that, as far as the competition was concerned, his band had lost after a final, tie-breaking vote. But, still, it was a sentiment tough to argue against.——
SPIN Earth, extra! Watch video from SPIN’s Redbull Soundclash sweepstakes winner, Elizabeth Jenkins on SPIN Earth >>