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June 17, 2011

Sade kicks off her American tour in spectacular fashion at Baltimore's 1st Mariner

Alright, stop looking. They're not gonna get any better than this. Sade at 1st Mariner, the first show of her new tour's American leg, is the best concert of the year.

Rihanna's was good, but it was amateur hour in comparison. U2's will be bigger, but it will not exceed the sheer transcendence of the Sade live experience.

The woman performs live rarely; her last major tour was a decade ago. And she's not even an occasional performer on the awards show circuit or singing competition shows. Few profiles of her fail to include the word "reclusive." It was likely that many in the crowd had probably not caught even her last tour. 

Some headliners tour every two years, others - U2, Madonna, Springsteen - loom so large in the culture that it's exciting just to see them in concert. But, Sade's concerts have the makings of natural phenomena that happen once a decade. They come so rarely, she feels like pop's Halley's comet.

At that pace, seeing her perform is itself a privilege, an experience unlikely to be repeated, literally, for another ten years. One of the remarkable moments of the concert happened in the half hour past her announced 9 p.m. entrance time, when the anticipation at 1st Mariner was palpable. It was difficult not to be caught up in the collective euphoria of the impatient crowd.

The singer, however, did not coast on the adulation of a crowd that would have swooned even if she'd sung Creed covers. Her two-hour show was a success because, after all the flashy, gimmicky shows pop stars have been staging this past year, this was a palette cleanser.

There was no DJ on stage. No prop cars made any appearances. She did not wear an LCD dress broadcasting a rainbow screensaver. It was remarkable for the stuff it didn't have. The concert's producers relied on smart, visually engaging stagecraft that otherwise enhanced the band and singer's performance, rather than overwhelm it.

The crowd had been waiting for a while when without any notice, the lights dimmed, everyone stood up, erupted in cheers and Sade emerged from a runway from underneath the stage to sing "Soldier of Love." Her band - which included to drummers, a keyboardist, a saxophone player, two back-up singers, and three guitarists - was also lifted from underneath.

Except for a jumbo-sized screen showing some of her videos, she sang the single and those that followed on a mostly bare stage. Her costume was equally sparse: a black body suit, enormous hoop earrings, and red lipstick.

After she finished the first number, the crowd did not allow her to speak for a full minute of screaming in unison. "I wanna take you back where it all started," she said, and she wasn't kidding. The concert including selections from all her albums, and only a handful, like the first number, from the new one.

An early highlight was "In Another Time," when she sat by the keyboardist and turned the arena into a lounge. 1st Mariner has scarcely felt more intimate. She did somehing similar later on "Jezebel," where she had almost no accompanimrnt except for the saxophonist, the night's other star.  "Kiss of Life," an ultra-romantic ballad, was another early highlight.

For "Smooth Operator," images evoking classic noir were projected on stage, a nice twist that updated a familiar song, at least visually. This was also the first of several costume changes. The band changed into suits and she into a men's suit sans blazer.

She sang "Bring Me Home" behind a translucent scrim, making her look like an apparition, especially when seen on the replay screens. It was a frest effect that gave he performance a spectral quality, fitting for a singer who disappears for as long as she does.  On "Is it a Crime?", red curtains unfurled from the ceiling, setting up a dramatic tableau.

There was ample room for the staging to be dull, a showcase for her catalog of ballads, but the smart production on songs like this one and "Smooth Operator," coupled with elaborate lighting, prevented that from happening. It was visually interesting without having to resort to pyrotechnics or giant hallucinogenic brownies.

"Jezebel" and "Is it a Crime?" were two stand-out performances, both evocative and regretful, and powerfully sung. Taken together, the performances in the noir section of the concert underscored the notion that this might just be one of those shows you'd talk about for years.

Which why it was so remarkable to see the heavy-set man in front of me, clearly reviewing the show, playing Scrabble on Facebook. He stopped at one point, but it was only to play Angry Birds. (Fun game: who was that guy? A hint!)

The last section of the show began with "Morning Bird," a new song, that she sang barefoot in a shiny, white, floor-length gown that stayed as her costume until the encore.  The song came after a couple of pretty but forgettable ballads, and a rousing "Paradise," where her back-up dancers took over the stage and egged the crowd on to sing together.

"Morning Bird" is a somber song, and set the tone for the melancholy numbers that followed, including "The King of Sorrow" and "The Sweetest Taboo." But the section culminated on an incredible moment when Sade was absolutely alone on stage singing "Pearls" and a massive, blazing sun towered over in the video screen behind her.

The crowd gave her a three-minute standing ovation to get her to return for the encore. Her choice, "Cherish the Day," was an apt one. I think everyone left feeling they had just witnessed something to remember.


Soldier Of Love
Your Love Is King
Kiss Of Life
Love Is Found
In Another Time
Smooth Operator
Bring Me Home
Is It A Crime?
Still In Love With You
All About Our Love
Nothing Can Come Between Us
Morning Bird
King Of Sorrow
The Sweetest Taboo
The Moon And The Sky
No Ordinary Love
By Your Side

Cherish The Day

Photo: Sade performing at 1st Mariner Arena June 16. (Gene Sweeney/Baltimore Sun)

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Posted by Erik Maza at 1:39 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Concert reviews


Do you realize that Sade is a BAND right? The saxophone player/guitarist (Stuart Matthewman), bass guitarist (Paul Spencer Denman) keyboardist player (Andrew Hale) and Ms. Sade Abu ARE SADE.

Thanks for this review, Erik. I would give major props to whoever designed this show.
As we left there was thunder and lightning, which seemed only appropriate.

Great article, captured the true feelings of the night. Helen Folasade Adu, I Love you even more!

Excellent, excellent show. This was my first time seeing Sade. She is in a class all by herself. The band, oh my goodness!!! It was a wonderful experience!

No Creed covers?! Glad I didn't waste my money.

I was there and wouldn't trade the experience for the world! Sade (the band) are consummate performers and we were all treated to their talent and extraordinary musical selections.

This article hit the nail on the head but would have benefitted from a run through spell check, for sure.

Ticket 7 months in advance-$50..Sade every ten years pricesless ;-) "Is it a crime" Yes!! last night the Sade, her band, and tvisual effects were phenomenal... I also saw Sade 10 years ago at the Nissan Pavillion and I still talk about that show one of the best ever !!!!!

It was amazing. Sade the band is musically as tight as a band can be. Sade the singer is every mans dream.

Truly a classy, soulful, blessing to us all.

Is 1st Mariner Arena still a dump?

Great review! Sade is a legend. She doesn't need extra pomp and circumstance to have showmanship and be a great performer. To just see her (who looks fabulous at the age of 52), hear her melodic voice live with her uber talented band is beyond satisfaction. It was truly a euphoric experience!

"three guitarists" ? WTF!
2 guitarists and a fabulous bassist!!!
get it right, damn it!

if i can only use one word...~SPEECHLESS...AWESOME...BRILLIANT...

and someone was right...the thunderstorm as we were leaving was only fitting...nice

AWESOME SHOW and ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!! Sade is TIMELESS and is a welcome change from "cookie cutter" artists we see today. I will definitely try to catch her last show in Vegas......don't know when she'll return or if this tour is her swan song!!

Great review Erik, loved the opening....and thanks for the set list!
It was my first Sade concert. She exuded the supreme confidence, calmness, and giddy joy of a master at work and had total command of her instrument. The breathy timbre of her voice set up the segue's out of a sax solo back into her singing beautifully. But, then she would wail a phrase in full voice that completely filled the arena. Countless times she and the band, in mid-tour form from the outset, played cat & mouse with dynamics and would turn on a dime from a whisper to a scream and back. The use of iconic imagery and staging was extremely effective, and added even more of a mythic quality to a legendary performance. How powerful is a person when their silhouette inspires sustained applause?! It was, I agree, a transcendent experience. Truly unforgettable.

This is my third Sade concert and the woman and band still makes me SPEECHLESS!

This was the best concert ever. I had the opportunity to see SADE when she first performed in the mid 80's in DC at a much smaller venue. I was extremely impressed with her range and talent.

She is truly a "class" act like none other. She doesn't need to perform in scantily dressed outfits to be seductive. Her band is "tight". It's great that she still has the "original" members from her early years. Also, good to see Leroy singing backup.

Great concert and a must see for everyone.

I am still in a state of shock. I could not believe what I saw last night This was my first Sade concert and I was expecting a lot for my money. When it ended I felt like I paid far to less for my ticket. Never could I have expected the performance of a lifetime.
I am a man, I felt like I NEEDED A CIGARETTE!!!!! when she was done.

Congrats Sade on making your fans feel riht at home with you.

The Sade Concert last night was simply an amazing concert!! She is better than ever. She is both beautiful and elegant as ever and her voice is as clear and sultry as it was over 25 years ago!! Her show is a must see. The band was also great with that deep soulful bass, rhythmic electric and acoustic guitar, driving and additive drum beats, and the always genius and sensuous sax work all in perfect harmony with that pristine Sade voice. The set was also beautiful with great videos images and use of fabrics and sheer screens to add to the alluringness of her music. I am so glad I went this time. I missed the last tour and could not miss this one. There was an electric feeling throughout the sold out crowd. Everyone should see her. Best moment of the evening, her Jezebel rendition, which was just pure heart and soul Sade. She is pure voice without all the over the top gimmicks that most of the new artists do. I wish other artists were as true to the art of singing and storytelling as she is and always has been. I hope you all have the same pleasure my wife and I did with seeing the incredible Sade. I only hope it is not another ten years before she returns.

One of the best concerts ever! She proved without a doubt her superior skills as a singer. Jezebel left me speechless and her band doesn't get much tighter than that.

I traveled from Philadelphia to see the Baltimore concert. I was stunned with her performance. It was transcendent.Sade (the woman and band) was fabulous. I also want to say that the Baltimore crowd was the best! Thank you all for a great experience.

I purchased tickets for this event the day they went on sale. I traveled from Trenton, NJ to see her. It was the best concert I have ever attended. I saw her last concert 10 years ago and this one far exceeded that one. And...I'm going to see her again on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark NJ. Yup! She's that awesome!

This will be my first Sade concert and I iwill see it in New Orleans. I am anxiously waiting for the concert and reading this only excites me more. Thanks for the setlist

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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