One must not show up to a Meshell Ndegeocello show with a set of expectations based on listening to one or two of the records she’s made over the last two decades. On each outing, she embraces a new set of creative impulses and totally immerses herself in them when bringing the recordings to the stage. On Tuesday at The Birchmere, an artist known for nasty funk and sultry rapping gave a delicate performance that fit the spare character of her recently released “Weather” album.
To watch Ndegeocello is to observe an musician who bares naked emotion that creates connection while still being staunchly committed to doing things her way. And that means disappointment for the exuberant fan who repeatedly shouted for 1993’s provocative dance jam “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)”. It was clear it wasn’t going to be that type of party once she quietly took the stage accompanied only by her guitarist and eased into an acoustic take on the melancholy love song “Grace.”
Using more of 1999’s heartbreak focused “Bitter” album as a segueway to her current project, the band joined her on stage for “Faithful”, a fragile apology that built to an extended, powerful crescendo. Stepping away from the mike, Ndegeocello leaned into her bass and the soft vocals that are characteristic of her ballads was replaced by the propulsive force of her instrument. “Dirty World” was another burst of energy, a quick bit of indie dance funk surrounded by more contemplative material.
Moments like these broke up the series of short études of the material from “Weather.” Ranging from alt pop to country and folk sounds, the tempos and the playing left large amounts of negative space for the lyrics to fill. “Bitter Mule” is a desperate plea that Ndegeocello explained was inspired by a bar owner friend who named an equine cocktail after his wife after she left him. The song ended abruptly, as if the lyric “I wish I could change your mind” was also the point where the protagonist gave up.
As a bonus to longtime fans, Ndegeocello pulled out her beloved slow jam “Outside Your Door,” noting humorously that it’s actually a bit stalkerish.