Joy may not be the predominant emotion on A Seat At The Table, but it’s the one most apparent at a Solange concert. She never seems more content than when she’s on stage, translating the turmoil and passion that fueled her masterful 2016 album into something triumphant. Her joy is contagious, too. It wells up in her and overflows into broad smiles and sudden improvised dance flourishes until you feel it along with her. How could you not feel it, really, when such lovingly crafted music is unfolding before you with precision and grace?
So it went Wednesday at SXSW, where Solange and her phenomenal band headlined the first night of YouTube’s three-night event. Decked out in matching light blue outfits, they moved, sang, and played with a sort of organized fluidity. Both the music and the choreography seemed to breathe, rehearsed but never rigid. If you’ve heard A Seat At The Table, you know the sound: that subtle blend of old soul, jazz, and funk stylings that alchemizes into a distinctly black vision of pop music, worshipful of the past even as it manifests the future. Songs like “F.U.B.U.” and “Don’t You Wait” took on overwhelming new dimensions of beauty in the hands of Solange’s backing band. They seemed telepathically linked, capable of accentuating the catchy elements in understated R&B songs without tipping into over into heavy-handed late-night TV band theatrics.
All the beautiful movement was essential to the performance as well. Solange and her pair of backup singers often engaged in simple but evocative motions, sometimes joined by a guitarist, a bassist, and a pair of brass players who emerged from time to time to add some extra punch. This was the sort of dancing that made every performance of “Losing You” circa True so spectacular, now extrapolated across a full set. They moved slowly and methodically enough to create the illusion that anybody could pull it off when in reality there’s a chance nobody else could. It was like watching Whitney Houston front Prince’s Revolution.
The setlist was expectedly dominated by A Seat At The Table, launching with the album’s introductory sequence of “Rise,” “Weary,” and “Cranes In The Sky” and concluding with a “Don’t Touch My Hair” encore dedicated to “all the black girls.” She did dip back into her Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams era for a run through “T.O.N.Y.” before ending the main set with a typically ecstatic rendition of True centerpiece “Losing You.” But just as last year’s opus is what sealed Solange’s place among the great musical visionaries of our time, the newest songs were the ones that ensured this would be one of SXSW’s most enrapturing displays. On stage, an album born of pain, anger, despondence, defiance, and pride ultimately communicated a peaceful warmth that lingered long after the lights went up.