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Andrew Hale and Sade

Sade in concert in San Jose. All concert photos Copyright © 2011 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

On Thursday evening, we saw our longtime friend Andrew Hale perform with Sade at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, in one of the most beautifully conceived and produced concert performances I have ever seen.

Sade is a rare musician, in that she and the band only write, record and tour every eight to ten years, so that in a very real sense you can measure your life by her.

The band's music is always fresh and always newly conceived - for their previous album, Lovers Rock, they stripped everything down musically to a minimalist sound and banished the saxophone that had been so much a part of Sade's heavily soul- and jazz-influenced style.

The latest album, Soldier of Love, released in 2010, is one of the most tender, moving collections of songs yet, from the astonishingly beautiful Morning Bird, which features exquisite keyboards from Andrew, to the soulful, retro, return-of-the-sax melodies of In Another Time, and the deeply touching, reggae-influenced charm of Babyfather - a particular favorite of our two year old daughter, Paradise, who loves to sing along with the chorus, "Your daddy knows..." She, and we, of course, also love Sade's early-career song Paradise, from the album Stronger Than Pride.

We met up with Andrew and family, whom we have known for at least fifteen years (he has been a core part of the band since its inception in 1983) at the Apple Cafeteria in Cupertino, a treat for us all very kindly arranged by Apple's design genius Jony Ive and his executive assistant, Harper Alexander, who hosted the lunch.

Andrew has been a huge Mac fan for many years, and Sade's show is run on a series of Macs, so it seemed an appropriate meeting point for a show that evening in nearby San Jose.

Afterward, we hung out for much of the afternoon, then retreated for a time to nap Paradise, who was coming to the concert with Hudson as a rare late-night treat.

Before the show, Andrew and his wife, Stephanie, kindly met us and escorted us backstage, where Paradise and Hudson were thrilled to spend time on one of the band's many very welcoming tour buses.

Then the show began - and it was extraordinary. The opening number Soldier of Love was dazzling in itself, but what struck me as the evening progressed was the thrilling quality of the lighting and visuals, perfectly conceived to enhance Sade's voice and the band's music.

This was unquestionably an iPad-generation performance, with the intriguing mix of a vast production (the production values easily match that of a Broadway musical) and the intimacy of a personal digital photo album - with images and archival footage of the band (home movies might be a more appropriate term, and I mean that in the sense of their warmth and immediacy, not as a slight in terms of quality or selection) playing seamlessly behind and around Sade and the band on vast screens - and sometimes seemingly in the air - as their music filled the arena.

The visuals perfectly complemented Sade's remarkable and unique voice and the band's music, adding emotional and literal color to the songs in a way that I have never seen before.

Sade in concert. All concert photos Copyright © 2011 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

When Sade performed Morning Bird (a personal favorite), a white translucent curtain descended in front of her and Andrew, whose delicate keyboards are highlighted in the song, and a delicate series of monochrome images accented the song's haunting, slightly mournful quality in a way that contrasted vividly with the color and digital excitement of so much of the rest of the show.

An aspect of the performance that struck me most powerfully was how perfectly the old songs mixed with the new.

It is not simply that they have not dated, it is that the manner in which they have been interwoven and reconceived (in terms of visual production - the songs are essentially the same musically) into the show is so fresh and engaging, especially given the intimate, "family"-like images around some, that they have new meaning - totally new for Sade's younger fans, and a fascinating mix of memories but also an awakening for those of us who have seen Sade perform many times...and listened to her music as a soundtrack to our lives.

I was also struck, for the first time (having seen the band live many times in the past), by the thought that seeing Sade now is like seeing Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald at their peak - unique musical voices (in the sense of both Sade and the band) that have no dependence on current trends and exist in their own right, with their own power and soul.

Sade's tour continues across North America and then moves on to new territories such as Eastern Europe.

It is a tour that has grown only greater in terms of audience response and ticket sales (Sade was recently the subject of a Billboard cover story about being the "hottest ticket" of the summer) as it has progressed.

Go see her if you can.


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