Review & Photos | Esperanza Spalding | Boston

By Andy Kahn May 19, 2015 12:55 pm PDT

Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss

Esperanza Spalding :: 5.17.2015 :: Paradise Rock Club :: Boston

Part poet, part performance artist and all instrumental virtuoso, Esperanza Spalding brought her Emily’s D+Evolution Tour to the Paradise Rock Club in Boston to play for a decent sized crowd of kids who literally just graduated from college hours earlier, many of whom brought along their Baby Boomer parents.

Spalding’s fretless bass work won her the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2011 and everyone from Prince to Stanley Clarke and M. Ward have taken notice. Halfway through her 75-minute set, the band held a mock graduation. Her “degree” contained lyrics for a spoken word piece she performed with her band members, all in different keys.  All weekend long, it was impossible to walk down Commonwealth avenue without coming into hoards of young 20-something’s in black or red graduation gowns, and while this segment of the set appeared to be part of the nightly program, the look on the face of the Berklee College of Music alum showed she understood quite well this portion was much more special on this night than on other tour stops.

In addition to presenting spoken word segments throughout her set, there was a degree of performance art incorporated that struggled to find a theme but didn’t detract from the experience. After the aforementioned “graduation,” Spalding went behind an upright piano cluttered with tip jars, threw on a bellhop uniform and literally dove all over the piano as her band kept the music flowing. The performance pieces didn’t make a lot of sense and the concept behind Emily’s D+Evolution fell flat, but Spalding’s credentials as a performer cannot be denied. Whether behind the piano, electric bass, or microphone, Spalding is as animated as they come. Flailing her arms, engaging her band mates or doing the “diva hand wag” while playing a complex bass part all comes with ease. Spalding was as much fun to watch as she was to listen to. 

For a performance that lacked an opening act and clocked in under an hour and a half, $35 was a steep asking price, especially during the busy season for concertgoers. That said, the set didn’t disappoint. Beautiful vocals, bass lines that grooved, a great live mix and a bit of awkward performance theater left her audience with the satisfaction that comes from seeing one of contemporary jazz’s most exciting artists. That alone might be worth the price of admission. 

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