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Badu offers a quirky, savvy mix

It was as if she didn't want to get off the stage. That's the feeling you got as Erykah Badu ended a powerful 2 1/2-hour performance at the Orpheum Saturday night. Her last song, "Tyrone," began as the familiar hit about a trifling man, then speeded up, turned bluesy, and flirted with a gospel-tinged finish. As the song went through its changes, Badu teased the audience, saying that the New York crowd she'd played to Friday night showed her more love. Musical improvisation, humor -- anything to keep the song from ending.

Badu's savvy evening of dance, music, politics, spirituality, and theatrics was a journey in six parts. Songs from her four CDs illustrated themes of sexuality, strength of self, love, will power, and intuition. Each section was pure performance: Badu, who has dumped her prodigious 'fro wig for hair reaching down to her knees, grandly introduced the subject; a talented dancer or two illustrated the point with African or modern dance; then Badu and her exceptional band launched into a series of songs.

The first point of business: exploring the allure of drugs in the urban community. "Danger," with its lyrics about "the glock on cock/the block stay hot" became a light show with flashes of blues, greens, and reds to imitate police cars. Politics was thrown in when Badu talked about the perception of dope dealing offering the only way out of the 'hood.

Badu balances the message with humor. On "Back in the Day (Puff)," she underscored the marijuana reference by adding lyrics about slaying the munchies with a super-size burger and fries.

The mystery of the evening was resolved when the singer segued into a set of songs about sexuality. She pulled off a cream-colored kimono to reveal her bulging belly, confirming rumors that she's pregnant.

While Badu's quirky, nasally voice didn't always seek perfection, singer Marsha Ambrosius of the opening act Floetry has a beautiful, controlled instrument that effortlessly flowed over the music.

Things didn't start well for the duo -- the band's music overwhelmed the vocals. Four songs into the hourlong set, they overcame sound problems and slid into a strong finish with their hits "Getting Late" and "Floetic." They slowed down "Say Yes," using spare musical accompaniment to accentuated the vocals.

As rapper Natalie Stewart mesmerizingly chanted "yeah, yeah, yeah," Ambrosius's voice leaped to impossibly higher notes.

You can't help feeling this talented duo will be headlining their own tours soon.

Erykah Badu, with Floetry

At: the Orpheum Theatre, Saturday night

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