Solange even managed to transform the often awkward wood-paneled Kennedy Center Concert Hall for Sunday’s sold-out D.C. stop on her “Orion’s Rise” performance series. After an electric (and technically shaky) opening set from the Sun Ra Arkestra, which was punctuated by improvised dance and horn riffs, a curtain was torn away to reveal Solange’s stage: an all-white field of steep steps leading to an enormous orb and flanked by massive pyramids —like a set of bleachers on the planet Krypton. As a bevy of musicians and a pair of backup singers filed onstage, it felt like setting the canvas for something solemn — and then Solange emerged from behind the orb, ready to begin church.
There are pieces of “Seat at the Table,” especially in the first half, that feel hymnal, and from the earliest beats of “Rise,” Solange christened “the motherf—ing Kennedy Center,” as she later put it, as a sacred space. Ever the craftswoman, Solange mobilized everyone on stage — even people who were already busy singing or playing instruments — as backup dancers performing precise moves somewhere between tai chi and disco. Only Solange herself seemed able to break the spell, occasionally offering a shy smile between intense stomps or twerking to deafening cheers from the audience. You get the sense that, though this mix of ritualistic precision and freeform leaps was choreographed, this is how she moves in real life, too.
Even rowdier parts of the set felt like communion: The crowd scream-sang along to “Cranes in the Sky,” Solange’s track about healing after loss, and “Mad,” in which she wearily declares “I got a lot to be mad about.” During a brief monologue — a rare moment of silence in the night — she described the time after releasing “Seat at the Table” a year ago, when she and her husband fled from the internet to a small “middle of nowhere” town in Mexico. When they emerged days later, “I was thirsty for the ‘gram,” she said. “I remember scrolling [Instagram] and seeing the album cover over and over, and just breaking down.” It was clear that those fans, who found in the album a voice for their anger, heartbreak and trauma, were in the room with her. She rewarded them with her earlier work, including a bluesy take on “T.O.N.Y.,” her 2008 track about a one-night stand, and — in the most explosive moment of the night — a bouncing performance of her 2012 dance bop “Losing You.”
After a pounding rendition of “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange closed the show as it started, joining her singers and the horn section in the piercing high notes of “Rise.” Then, for her final act, Solange turned around and conducted the band. And why shouldn’t she? We all know she’s the boss — as well as our high priestess.