It is very rare that two right things come together in such a fashion that they create the absolute pinnacle of musicality and live entertainment. For those who were able to attend one of the 77 dates of the Voodoo Tour between March 1st and October 20th, 2000, they witnessed the best modern collection of R&B, Funk, and soul musicians assembled on one stage, supporting a true classic album of the genre.
The Voodoo World Tour of 2000, in support of Voodoo, the second studio record from R&B singer/songwriter D’Angelo, encapsulated the same feeling of collaboration that the album itself had from it’s inception. The recording of the album took place at Electric Lady Studios in New York City – which is exactly where Eryka Badu was recording Mama’s Gun and Common was recording Like Water for Chocolate, both classic albums in their own right. But as the recording process progressed impromptu collaborations became an everyday occurrence in the studio, which also led to a very distinctive sound which was evident on all 3 of these albums. Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, James Poyser, Mos Def – these kings and queens of late-90’s R&B and Hip Hop would be only a few doors down or in the next studio.
The driving force behind this collaboration was, of course, Ahmir Thompson (a.k.a. ?uestlove of the Roots) who created a collaborative environment and a group of like-minded soul and R&B musicians in the late ’90’s and early ’00’s called the Soulquarians. It was this group of engineers, producers, musicians, songwriters, singers, and instrumentalists which have become almost legendary in their influence on neo-soul today.
Once Voodoo had been tracked, mixed, and mastered using old-school recording techniques, vintage mixing gear and analog recording equipment,Voodoo began it’s cosmic rise to the top of the Billboard top 200 charts – debuting at number one, selling 320000 copies in it’s first week, and ultimately spending a total of 33 weeks on the charts.
Following the success of the album, and utilizing the community set around it, ?uestlove was given the opportunity as the de facto musical director of the upcoming tour, to put together what is arguably the best collection of soul, funk, jazz, and Hip Hop musicians ever assembled on one stage – this backing band would come to be known as The Soultronics.
The Soultronics consisted of:
James Poyser, keyboard; Pino Palladino, bass; ?uestlove, drums; F. Knuckles, percussion; Jef Lee Johnson & Chalmer Alford, guitar; Roy Hargrove & Russell Gunn, trumpet; Frank Lacy, trombone; Jacque Schwardz-Bart, saxophone; Anthony Hamilton, Shelby Johnson & Jack E. King III, backing vocals.
Each one of these musicians deserves their own blog post revolving around their own achievements in music (maybe that will happen, maybe not) however, until then I would suggest a quick Google search to truly figure out how individually awesome this band is.
The tour that followed was critically acclaimed like almost no other show during this time – Rolling Stone described D’Angelo’s performance by saying, “No wonder he’s alive onstage now, dancing, touching the audience, slamming his microphone down, lying on the ground at the lip of the stage to sing ‘One Mo’ Gin’ while girls grab his legs, his stomach, his crotch.” Gaining comparisons to Parliement and Sly and the Family Stone, this 90’s incarnation of the “funk super-group” was an unstoppable force during the summer of 2000. The Hollywood Reporter described the opening show at LA’s House of Blues as a “three-hour old-school soul marathon that was part ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine’, part ‘Let’s Get It On’, part ‘Move on Up’ gospel exuberance … with call-and-response and other crowd-rousing church conventions“.
“Totally committed, D’Angelo betrayed neither weakness nor ego—and gave so much Thursday that Friday he canceled with a sore throat I absolutely believe was the truth. He was R&B Jesus, and I’m a believer. Travel to another city to see him now.” – Robert Christgau, 2000
The tour was consistently ranked above classic performances from Marvin Gaye, Parliament, and Jimi Hendrix. This tour was arguably the best set of R&B performances in the history of the genre, and unfortunately we won’t be able to witness any thing close to it for a very long time.
Of course, I can write about this for ages but you need to see it for yourself – something that even I was unfortunately too young at the time to do.
Check out his tour ending concert, in full, below: