It isn’t often that you see an artist stand onstage and remove every speck of her makeup.
It isn’t often that you hear an artist who can tackle Nina Simone and Michael Jackson with equal authenticity.
It isn’t often that an artist such as Andra Day arrives.
At her packed concert at Center Stage Thursday night, Day showcased, with touches of self-deprecation and class, why the buzz about her keeps escalating.
Throughout her brisk set, the R&B-soul singer treated fans (and plenty of family, since she retains tight Atlanta ties) to most of the material from her stellar debut, “Cheers to the Fall,” as well as a pack of cover songs.
With the help of her superb four-piece band led by the creamy-voiced Charles Jones (more on him in a moment), Day weaved her way through the opening “Forever Mine,” which she started by singing while seated on a trunk, her chin in her hand as she leaned into the lyrics.
In her now-trademark silk pajamas, as well as a mink stole and multi-colored headdress, Day stepped around the Oriental rugs covering the stage, snapping her fingers and feeling the rhythm of “Gold,” which evolved from lite-funk to intricate jazz, and schooling the crowd on Simone as she scatted through “Mississippi Goddam.”
Day scrunched her nose and jutted her chin as she bobbed her head and motioned for her band to keep taking the music higher as she knitted “Honey or Fire” and “Gin & Juice (Let Go My Hand)” and slinked around her mic stand like a burlesque dancer.
A highlight came when Day, who usually punctuates her conversations with a staccato laugh, turned serious to tell the crowd about the insecurities she suffered as a young woman and how she would never leave the house without her mask of makeup.
Pulling out a packet of makeup wipes, Day smeared off every speck of face paint and launched into a quietly groovy rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s “No Makeup.”
Her personal emotional exposure continued with the softly insightful “Rearview,” which Day performed while perched next to Jones and his keyboard.
As someone who clearly loves music, Day is wise enough to spot brilliance, and she deftly turned the spotlight on the tremendously talented Jones to duet with her on a Michael Jackson medley (a fun touch that didn’t quite fit the tone of the show) and inspire much hand waving as he barreled through “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Day has frequently been compared to Amy Winehouse – an assessment that sounds especially true over the glistening guitar of “Only Love” and Day’s breakout, “Rise Up.”
But don’t get too carried away with any comparisons because, no question, there is only one Andra Day.