Erykah Badu, Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

Countering expectation is a risky high-wire act. Fortunately for the adventurous Erykah Badu, her presence and peerless soul-drenched back catalogue provided her with a respectable safety net.

Attempting to soar beyond her self-created boundaries, Badu's wings were clipped by a flattened audience that appeared to be puzzled by this latest incarnation of the artist born Erica Abi Wright. Probing for an early response, Badu's impassioned prompts asked many questions. Few could be answered fully, her punctual start negated by the fact that she never really got into her stride until about an hour into this theatrically intimate gig.

At odds with how to receive the new Erykah – no traditional African dress here – and her latest material, it took a while for both the crowd and Badu to get going. Making a string of references to peaceful protest, the Afrocentric artist couldn't have expected that her latest efforts would set the crowd into Burmese Buddhist mode.

But there they were; nearly 5,000 static fans crammed into Brixton Academy, politely requesting a return to the Texan's former glories. Casting aside early persistence with the eccentric New Amerykah, Badu asked the crowd if she could revisit Mama's Gun. The crowd invited her in with open arms, as she also flirted with Worldwide Underground and her landmark debut Baduizm.

Attempting to offer a sense of urgency to her routine, Badu hyphenated her songs with both vocal and actual sirens. As she screamed into the microphone like a cornered animal, the kaleidoscopic lighting only added to the spectacle. Stalking the stage like an octopus stretching its tentacles through the water, it was clear that Badu was here to put on a show, when all the audience wanted was a performance.

However, the crowd's patience paid off as Badu reined in her amateur dramatic stage show and offered the restful "Times a Wastin'" and "What You Gonna Do", before throwing "Danger" and "Tyrone" into the mix. The biggest roar came when the electric licks of the bass heavy "Bag Lady" clicked into gear. Heralding an unforeseen full-throated karaoke and crowd-surfing session, Badu had to leave the stage to establish the connection that she is renowned for establishing through her playfully potent wordplay.

Bizarre and brilliant in equal measure, Badu left the stage with her esteemed reputation in tact. She will have to give her fans more of what they want if she intends to keep it.

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