DC’s own Meshell Ndegeocello returned to the city Thursday night to perform a pair of back-to-back shows at the Kennedy Center. A near-capacity multicultural, multigenerational audience showed up for the multifaceted artist.
Throughout her career Meshell, born Michelle Lynn Johnson, has defied categorization as a musician (singer-songwriter, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist), mastering many genres: R&B, rock, funk, neo-soul, jazz, dub, folk, and more.
She began the show with R&B ballad “Fool of Me.” The song, made popular when it appeared on the Love and Basketball soundtrack, recounts the humiliation of bitter heartbreak.
Life hasn’t been easy for the talented musician. Pain and struggle are at the foundation of many of her songs. Coming back to DC was bittersweet, she told the audience. Not all of her childhood memories were happy ones. This side note was said matter-of-factly. During the show, she appeared light, teasing the crowd, and joking how it’s funny that she was still singing sad song about lovers that she has long since gotten over.
Meshell has described her latest album Ventriloquism as her way of reminding herself of a brighter time. The album, released last month, is a collection of her reinterpretations of ‘80s and 90s R&B and funk songs. On the album, she melds songs like Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” with her husky vocals and bass guitar.
The night was a journey back in time through the music Meshell loves. Channeling Nina Simone, she performed the Leonard Cohen-penned “Suzanne” and then “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Both songs appear on her 2012 Simone tribute album, Pour une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone.
Next was a funky detour with her rendition of the George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic classic “Atomic Dog.” Drummer Abraham Rounds helped Meshell with vocals, but it was his furious drumming throughout the show that elicited applause and cheers on numerous occasions.
Following the song, Meshell shared with the audience that her older brother was the first person to put her onto Parliament and seeing them in-person at RFK Stadium changed her life.
Three verses into the Force MDs’ 1986 R&B hit “Tender Love,” Meshell stopped, chuckled a little, and apologized. She just realized that she was still singing in the “Atomic Dog” chord — D chord to be exact. “There’s your Ted Talk moment.” She was having fun and the show-goers loving every minute. Taking it from the top, Meshell and audience sang in unison.
Listen to “Tender Love” by Meshell Ndegeocello on YouTube:
It was a triumphant return for Meshell, and although she lamented that as a celebrity she can’t always be as forthright as she may want, she still found a way to be positive. “Don’t turn a good day bad,” she told the audience before closing out the show with the song of the same name (“Good Day Bad”).