[23 February 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
“He’s the truth.” That’s what the woman sitting next to me said. She’s an aspiring singer who works as an administrator in a hospital. Her three-word statement encapsulated why a standing room-only crowd braved congested 42nd Street sidewalks to witness the return of Manhattan’s own son of soul, Rahsaan Patterson. Now based in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter/soul stylist serenaded his home town with a pre-Valentine’s Day concert at B.B. King’s.
No matter the holiday pretext, love is fundamental to a Rahsaan Patterson performance. There are love songs, of course, but there is also an amorous reciprocity between him and his audience. From the moment he walked onstage, singing rather than speaking his salutation (“good evening”), Patterson received the first of many adoring ovations throughout his 12-song set. The applause wasn’t simply a gesture to honor the homecoming of a New York native nor was it the proximity to Valentine’s Day that heightened the ardor in the room. Rahsaan Patterson’s audience simply wanted to hear the truth. Launching into his new single, “Easier Said Than Done”, Patterson deployed that truth. “Truth be told, I should be gone ‘cause you’re fucking with my mental state,” he sang during one memorable couplet. Indeed, sometimes the truth hurts.
However, like Patterson demonstrated so vividly on Wines and Spirits (2007), truth also yields healing. “It’s Alright Now”, one of the key tracks off Love in Stereo (1999), reflects emancipation from romantic manipulation. Effortlessly jumping octaves and singing in falsetto, Patterson’s voice traveled a gamut of emotions. “Gonna make it without you,” he sang, stroking his chin while the music stirred inside him.
In fact, the most moving display of love during the evening was the relationship Patterson has with music. Whenever his voice reverberated throughout the walls of the sold-out venue, his onstage body language connoted a sense of rapture. His head tilted back on “Burnin’”, his hands moving across his chest and over his heart. As his voiced scaled the stratosphere, he bent sideways with his palm open, as if holding the invisible hand of a love that will never be untrue—music.
“Thank you for being here,” Patterson said between numbers. “We appreciate y’all. Truly, we do.” In return, the audience appreciated “Spend the Night”, a cut from Patterson’s 1997 eponymous debut that generated one of the most vociferous reactions that evening. “I love this song to death,” the woman beside me exclaimed to her friends. Patterson took his time with the song, expanding the more familiar studio version to give fans a multi-dimensional listening experience, beyond the conventional 4:50 mark. “Thank you for clapping,” Patterson said upon the song’s conclusion. “You know it means everything. There’s nothing worse than performing in a small town where no one knows who you are.”
Responding to requests for songs like “So Hot” and “Oh Lord”, Patterson quipped, “What we are going to do is the set list we chose for the evening… and this one’s on it. It goes like this.” Indeed, there are many different kinds of Rahsaan Patterson fans, all with varying preferences, but most would concur about the greatness of “Can’t We Wait a Minute”, which continued the set. “I’ve seen him on YouTube just murdering this song,” my newly befriended companion said, breathlessly.
For the evening’s duration, Rahsaan Patterson gave generous solo spots to individual band members and exhibited great care for his background singers, making sure their monitors functioned correctly. From the Wines and Spirits singles “Stop Breaking My Heart” and “Feels Good” to “The One For Me” and “The Best” off After Hours (2004), Patterson drew heavily from the latter part of his catalog. Both albums were issued on Patterson’s independent Artistry Music label, which will also release his forthcoming Bleuphoria album in April 2011 via Mack Avenue Records.
In advance of the album’s arrival, Patterson left the audience with a parting gift: his rendition of Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride”. Over the years, Patterson’s faithful yet inimitable interpretation has become among the most anticipated moments of his concerts. He personalized every note of the Sade classic, isolating moments between words to underscore the profundity of the lyrics.
It wasn’t because of Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t because of Cupid. With his resounding voice and commanding presence, Rahsaan Patterson gave back as much love as he received. And that’s the truth.