Concert Review and Photos: Angelique Kidjo Spreads Joy at The Vets (2-22-20)

Firstworks Brings Four Time Grammy Winner to Providence

It was more a celebration than concert Saturday night at The Vets in Providence. Don’t get me wrong, the concert was exceptional, perfect in every way, with a remarkable lead singer and a formidable backing band.

But the real story is Angelique Kidjo, four-time Grammy Award winner, part ambassador for all things good, part motivational speaker, part rock star. She’s appeared at benefit concerts for years, championing women’s issues as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Her music and her mission reflect a spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood, making her part of a line of cultural icons like Marley and Mandela that adorn t-shirts and promote universal values.

Her positive energy is infectious. It flowed through the diverse crowd who welcomed her – kids, adults, seniors, all up on their feet dancing along for much of the show.

Kidjo shared songs of freedom and stories of her musical journey growing up in Benin, Africa and escaping the Communist dictatorship there in the 1980’s. That message seemed especially significant to those in the audience from the Liberian community, many who escaped similar circumstances in the 1990’s.

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As advertised, the show centered around the Talking Heads groundbreaking 1980 release Remain in Light, a seminal album that introduced many of us to African sounds and rhythms. Kidjo played songs from that album, with an emphasis on percussion and movement. She had the audience on their feet most of the night.

Highlights from the album included the trancelike “Born Under Punches” and “Crosseyed and Painless” (“I’m steeeeell waiting”). The album’s most well know song, “Once in a Lifetime,” was certainly not “same as it ever was” (wink, wink); instead a carnival-like atmosphere swept the theater.

Other standouts included the high energy “Afirika,” which saw Kidjo dancing in the aisles. She grooved on the latin-infused “Cucala,” a tribute to Celia Cruz from her 2019 album Celia. The closing number, “Tumba,” saw young and old showing off their dance moves on stage while Kidjo once again jumped out into the crowd. All that was left was the encore – a raucous version of the Head’s classic “Burning Down the House” with everyone once again joining in.

Kudos to FirstWorks for bringing Kidjo back to Providence – she first played the city in 2015 as part of the PVD Festival. And good news, if you missed this show, Kidjo is scheduled to return to the Newport Jazz Festival this summer. Don’t miss her! Meanwhile, check out some photos of the show from What’sUpRI photographer Rick Farrell.