10/16/16 – Esperanza Spalding at State Theater of Ithaca

Esperanza Spalding on her tour of "Emily's D+ Evolution," stopped at State Theater of Ithaca this past Saturday.

10/16/16 – Esperanza Spalding at State Theater of Ithaca

Esperanza Spalding on her tour of “Emily’s D+ Evolution,” stopped at State Theater of Ithaca this past Saturday. This latest album, released earlier this year in March, explores Spalding’s alter ego of “Emily.” As her middle name, Spalding used this project as a way to give this persona voice and creativity, and to explore abstract and philosophical ideas about “evolution.”

The venue was well-suited to the event. State Theater of Ithaca is a historic building that seats about 1,600, and it was perhaps 80% filled. For Rochesterians who haven’t been, it’s worth checking out. They do a great job of mixing the ornate building with a low key vibe (a diverse crowd in terms of age and race was present; almost all in jeans), that’s fun and relaxing. Snacks and drinks are served as well that you can have right in the theater. The sound was good as well, although it took a couple songs to nail down the balance perfectly.

On this tour, Spalding was joined by guitarist Lucas Del Calvo, drummer Justin Tyson, and three backup singers, Rachael Duddy, Starr Busby, and Corey king (who also double on a synth occasionally). Billed as “The Professional Band,” these musicians put out a ton of sound for a relatively small group. In music that mixes rock, R&C, gospel, and jazz, Tyson’s and Spalding’s activity drove the sound forward, and was complemented by Del Calvo’s rock distortion and riffs. The singers as well shifted between unison and tight harmonies throughout the show, either in call-and-response, harmony with Spalding, or in other roles.

A number in the crowd – mainly those bass students and teachers in the Ithaca area – were expecting a show that set the bass in a more featured role. Instead, Spalding set this concert as a play, complete iwth costume designs and a set. The program was divided into three acts, though there was no definitive break for each. Each act contained songs from the album that outlined quotes and definitions in the program that outlined stages of human evolution.

Spalding was injecting love and emotion into the conventional meaning of evolution (a selective process of acquiring of genetic traits that allows a species to adapt to its environment), and changing into our individual evolution, where we learn to embrace ourselves.

Spalding started out the show in a black dress and afro wig before tearing them off, showing a white jumpsuit, corn rows, and a pair of white-rimmed glasses she stowed away. With that, she became that alter ego Emily.

The show followed those three acts, telling a story of human development, using the songs from the album as a vehicle. She began in a childhood state, discussing developing, the first time coming out of a shell, taking in information, and finally breaking out of your shell and living your life. After a long ovation, in lieu of a traditional encore (Spalding cheekily saying “We don’t have one!”), Spalding gave a solo performance of one of her early tunes in a “sing-all-the-parts” style of Bobby McFerrin.

It was a wonderfully done show, perfectly mixing great music and a reduced play format. Spalding’s music was superb as always, and the format of show allowed her to get her message across.

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