Raphael Saadiq presents expansive body of work during First Avenue concert

Sara Fish/First Avenue Raphael Saadiq

With five solo albums and a career that spans three decades, Raphael Saadiq’s place in modern soul music history is beyond solidified. His latest venture and fifth studio album “Jimmy Lee” is deeply personal and draws upon memories of his older brother who died of a heroin overdose in the ’90s.

As with many of his releases, the album contains a fusion of multiple genres while fully entrenched in soul. The singer-songwriter presented this work and then some during a 90-minute set Saturday, Feb. 22 at First Avenue. Making effective use of each moment, Saadiq made it a point to pace himself by carefully introducing each song and setting the tone for the evening.

“It feels so good to be back in Minneapolis,” he proclaimed as he entered the stage backed by a full band and a guitar strapped to his shoulder.

Letting the moment breathe, he also warmly recalled his early days in the Twin Cities as a member of Prince’s famed “Parade” Tour before opening with “I’m Feeling Love,” a track from his latest album. 

“Something Keeps Calling Me,” the album’s lead single, soon followed keeping the audience on its feet while the artist’s smooth vocals blanketed the atmosphere.

As the former front man of ’90s R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné!, Saadiq’s body of work is rich with classics, all of which he was eager to play throughout his set to the delight of the audience. The group’s hits “That’s All I Ask of You,” “Just Me and You,” “It Never Rains,” “Let’s Get Down,” and “Anniversary” were all sprinkled into the artist’s show thus familiarizing the audience with the start of his storied career. “Many people don’t realize I was a part of the group Tony! Toni! Toné! and think I began my career as a solo artist,” he shared with the audience between songs.

Sara Fish/First Avenue Opening act Jamila Woods

Saadiq, who also penned his share of classics for other artists including D’Angelo, Solange, and Erykah Badu, reminded the audience about his legacy as a songwriter and producer by performing a medley of their hits (“Lady,” “Cranes in the Sky,” and “Love of My Life,” respectively)—a quiet brag from an artist that many consider to be criminally underrated for his consistency and longevity.

In a moment of vulnerability, Saadiq allocated time during the show to speak about the memory of his late brother and the bond they shared over albums in his formative years in Oakland, California.

This vulnerability also prompted the artist to recall the time he spent working with Earth Wind and Fire, in particular lead vocalist Maurice White, who passed away in 2016.

“I remember talking to Maurice White and asking him about some of the famous records they (Earth Wind and Fire) produced just to get his response,” he fondly recalled. The fruits of their labor resulted in the group’s 2004 hit “Show Me the Way.”

Saadiq then circled back around to perform selections from his own catalog of hits, including
“Get Involved” and “Be Here” before closing out with 2002’s “Still Ray,” which has garnered a new generation of listeners thanks to HBO’s show “Insecure.”

Jamila Woods, the show’s opening act, provided a perfect balance of energy and soul during her 40-minute set, while DJ Duggz spun a variety of unique mixes.

Still, it was the artistry of Saadiq that took the audience on a voyage through time as he cemented his legacy as one of the most underappreciated artists in the era of modern soul.

Judging from his humility it is a crown he will proudly wear.