Concert Review: Sade, Air Canada Centre, Toronto, June 28 2011

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Sade is a group with unparalleled longevity and unrelenting quality. Since their recording debut with 1984’s Diamond Life, this band has released only 5 studio albums. While not prolific, they are one of the most musically discerning groups in contemporary music.

It was this reputation that drew me to their 2011 concert at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, an indoor arena venue. What they delivered that summer night was essential Sade. Fittingly centred around lead singer Sade Adu, the show opened with “Soldier of Love” from their most recent album. Adu emerged from a beam of white light shone from under the stage. With each riff of the opening snare drum and guitar, she took the steps one by one, arriving on stage to a frenzy.

The catalogue of familiar songs were nostalgically received, perfectly performed, and refreshingly accompanied by a video presentation that blended wonderfully with the live action on stage. The most striking use of the video screen was for the new song, “Love is Found,” from The Ultimate Collection (2011). A silhouetted Adu and male figure play out a courtship on screen with mesmerizingly original choreography. Meanwhile, in the foreground, silhouetted by the backlit video screen, the real Sade mimics the video moves and performs the song. The band are black shadows, almost unreal.

Sade’s guitarist and saxophonest, Stuart Matthewman, is the unsung musical soulmate to Adu’s diva persona. Throughout their recording history, Matthewman’s saxophone defined the smooth, easy-going flow to their music. It is hard to think of any popular music group whose sound is so distinctly yet subtely defined by a saxophone. Then, with Lovers Rock and again with Soldier of Love, Matthewman’s use of a hard edged distorted guitar breathed a new aural aesthetic into their work. Suddenly, Sade was ‘edgy’ while still being the smoothest sound around.

The beautiful thing about Sade live is that all this musicianship and the iconic vocals are perfectly reproduced in high fidelity. Their sound is simple and lends itself to a high quality performance. Like their recorded work, the calibre of Sade’s live performance is unparalleled.

Setlist:

1. Soldier of Love; 2. Your Love is King; 3. Skin; 4. Kiss of Life; 5. Love is Found; 6. In Another Time; 7. Smooth Operator; 8. Jezebel; 9. Bring Me Home; 10. Is It a Crime; 11. Love is Stronger Than Pride; 12. All About Our Love; 13. Paradise / Nothing Can Come Between Us; 14. Morning Bird; 15. King of Sorrow; 16. The Sweetest Taboo; 17. The Moon and the Sky; 18. Pearls; 19. No Ordinary Love; 20. By Your Side; 21. Cherish the Day (Encore)

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