Solange’s masterful 2016 album, “A Seat at the Table,” was released a day and a year before her Sunday night show at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, but it felt no less important or impactful than it did last fall.
If anything, its messages of black empowerment, self-care, and turning pain and grief into love and joy are more poignant at a time when neo-Confederates march on the streets and the president calls any NFL player protesting police brutality a “son of a bitch.” Solange said that all she expected from the album was a chance to heal some of her trauma; onstage, she helped heal a couple thousand people.
The 2,400-seat venue was part of a stop on Solange’s Orion’s Rise tour, and presented fans with a relatively intimate opportunity to experience her music.
After an opening set by the stardusted Sun Ra Arkestra, Solange and her band took the stage, which was more art installation than bandstand. Two pyramids, an unadorned sphere and a dozen steps, all bathed in red light, continued the Arkestra’s Afrofuturistic sojourn. Everyone was outfitted in simple, earth-tone outfits, minimalism also reflected in the choreography: Deceptively simple movements, like deconstructed Motown routines, crescendoed into expressive explosions of emotion.
During her first two numbers, “Rise” and “Weary,” the audience remained seated, complying with whatever expectations they had for the Kennedy Center. But soon — at Solange’s command — they were on their feet, singing and dancing to “Cranes in the Sky,” a song about drinking, dancing, spending, sexing and running away from pain. For both Solange and her audience, “Cranes” is cathartic, like all of “A Seat at the Table.” That was particularly clear on “Mad,” a takedown of “angry black woman” stereotypes that Solange punctuated with primal screams and neck rolls, reminding listeners (especially black women) that “you got the right to be mad.” The communion peaked on the empowered “F.U.B.U.” (“for us, by us”) as Solange put her swag on, twerking and bouncing while emphasizing, “this s--- is for us.”
While “A Seat at the Table” is certainly Solange’s finest album, it isn’t her only one; she has been releasing music since she was in her teens. On Sunday, she seamlessly incorporated her earlier work — from “Crush” and “T.O.N.Y.” to the highlights of her 2012 “True” EP — into a cohesive vision. “Lovers in the Parking Lot” gave way to the “lovers on a mission” of “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care),” united by a bass line and a beat.
It was a night of unity: between Solange’s present and past, between her and her bandmates, between her and the audience, between audience members. It is a feeling often sought at concerts but rarely so completely felt, a fact not lost on the woman who made it all possible. “When I look around this room,” she said, “I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life.” She wasn’t alone.