Andra Day gives intimate concert in Chicago

Although she’s a Grammy-nominated, chart-topping artist, Andra Day made her sold-out concert at Lincoln Hall on March 15 feel intimate and casual by chatting with the audience about love and injustice as if they were old friends.

Her opener, pop and soul artist Conrad Sewell, radiated Aussie vibes from his appearance alone (think long blonde hair and leather jacket), so his accent only confirmed his Australian origin. Sewell opened with “Firestone” (a synth-and-soul-filled collaboration with DJ Kygo) and moved on to another dance-y song, “Shadow.”

With lots of reverb and vibrato, he noted this was his “first time breakin’ it down acoustically like this” before performing vindictive-lover anthem “Who You Lovin’” and heartbreaking ballad “Start Again.”

At first seemingly unfit for his style, Sewell performed R&B singer Musiq Soulchild’s 2000 hit “Just Friends” — and killed it. Throughout his set, Sewell’s falsetto sounded of Sam Smith or Michael Jackson, while his high, clear belt — with just a touch of gritty raspy-ness — was reminiscent of Adele.

Off by 8 p.m., Sewell left the stage as more people finished trickling in. Aside from a few table/chair combos surrounding the balcony, everyone in the venue was standing. The audience waited anxiously for another full hour before the much-anticipated main act took the stage.

Just shy of 9 p.m., Andra Day finally came onstage — wearing pajamas, a fur coat and cross necklace. She started the set with “Forever Mine,” her haunting song about discovering new love.

Next, her flawless voice soared through “Gold,” a candid story about her unfaithfulness in a past relationship before turning her attention to the audience and saying, “Shout-out to my cousins. I’ve got family here!”

Day then performed a chilling rendition of Nina Simone’s 1960 protest song, “Mississippi Goddam.”  She introduced it with background on the Birmingham bombing of a Baptist church, saying, “We’re gonna talk about injustice.”

Throughout the set, Day’s movements resembled a musical exorcism, as she let her body move without inhibition. She moved on to “Honey or Fire” and “Gin & Juice,” a song about letting go of unwanted habits and vices — in this case, a man.

Explaining that she was a big hip-hop and Kendrick Lamar fan, Day revealed she was about to cover a song of his, saying, “I don’t wanna do it like this so I’m gonna take my makeup off.” Sipping from a cup of tea and cleansing her face with makeup wipes, she then naturally covered Lamar’s “No Make-Up.”

Backed by a four-piece band whom she referred to countless times as her “best friends” and “brothers,” Day even gave the stage up to her keyboardist Charles Jones to let him perform a song and declared him “one of the most incredible vocalists [she] had ever heard in [her] entire life.”

Declaring her album an autobiography and saying she wanted to bare her soul to the audience, Day performed “Rearview Mirror” before upping the energy with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” which transitioned into “Thriller.”

Finally, the soul-singer introduced her hit single “Rise Up” and brought two women onstage from backstage. Dedicating the song to one of the women, Carla, she asked the audience to pray for Carla and her family “even if you have never prayed a prayer in your entire life.” Although Day didn’t reveal specifics onstage, she later posted on Facebook that Carla was battling cancer.

“We have a little addendum to this song,” she said, before instructing the audience to sing the chorus of “Rise Up” while she sang a new phrase on top: “Spread a little hope and love now — in courage and to rise up now.”

“The hope tonight is that if we sing this loud enough, then everyone in this vicinity — everyone on this block and in this city — they’re all healed,” Day said. “Their burdens are lifted off of them. They are encouraged, they are inspired and they remember that they can persevere.”

Wrapping up around 10 p.m. with “As the City Burns,” Day came back onstage for an encore featuring a spooky, banging rendition of Queen’s “I Want It All.”

Her loving, free-spirited attitude was evident throughout the night. She even posed for a selfie with a fan in the front row, making a duck face before heading off stage once and for all.

It was a night of brilliant vocals, political activism, inspiring song-prefaces… and sore backs. But the wait was worth it. Day sounded even better in person and let her music serve as a coping mechanism for her audience, leaving everyone with positive, inspiring, loving thoughts.


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