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Sade Smooth in Opener

R&B chanteuse returns to the stage after ten-year absence

July 15, 2001 12:00 AM ET

In this culture where we worship everything young and fresh, Sade reminded us during last night's tour opener that there is no substitute for experience.

Coming onstage Seattle's Key Arena behind a see-through curtain, the Nigerian-born chanteuse showed no signs of rust, opening with Love Deluxe's "Cherish the Day." The curtain rose halfway through the track, revealing an eight-piece band set up on a sparse stage. Greeted by a thunderous ovation, Sade -- dressed in a knee-length, gold, Oriental gown -- talked about the long absence immediately, saying, "It's been a long time. Thanks for waiting for us." After a rousing "Your Love Is King," augmented by a robust sax solo, she led the band in a sweet, acoustic guitar-heavy version of "Somebody Already Broke My Heart," the first of nine tracks from her 2000 "comeback" release, Lovers Rock.

As she did all night long, Sade displayed a masterful penchant for sequencing, going from the subdued "Somebody Already Broke My Heart" into Diamond Life's funky "Cherry Pie."

Sade, whose voice was dazzling audiences before Mariah or Whitney came on the scene, gave a taste of her prowess during the elegant "Pearls," which featured just her and a keyboardist. Most impressive about her vocal dynamics (which, if anything, there should have been more of) was the effortlessness with which she elevated her voice to a more dramatic, passionate plateau.

After a strong rendition of the new album's "Every Word," she lifted it up a notch with a jazzy "Smooth Operator." A disco ball over the middle of the arena floor illuminated the venue as the band, which was given several opportunities to bask in the spotlight, delivered an extended calypso-flavored solo, complete with bongos and horns, at the end of the song.

As dazzling as "Smooth Operator" was, the following song, "Jezebel," may have been even more impressive, just for what it accomplished. Seated on the edge of the stage, as if she were in a small jazz club, Sade made everybody forget they were in a basketball arena. For an artist whose music is as intimate as Sade to be able to hold court (forgive the pun) in a venue of that size borders on the remarkable. The crowd, displaying their knowledge and love of their hero, responded in kind with one of the biggest ovations of the night.

Another impressive one-two sequence was the new album's "The Sweetest Gift," followed by a show-stopping "Sweetest Taboo." The former, a sparse acoustic track, was performed behind a curtain that displayed images of fireworks. The poignant simplicity of the song, coupled with the stark, black and white images of fireworks, was almost Springsteen-esque. Throughout the two-hour set, the visual screens and sound effects were utilized brilliantly, such as the thunderstorm before "Sweetest Taboo." The use of the effects was a nod to the size of the venues Sade will be playing on the tour, but also a promise that the music will not be overshadowed.

Indeed, this was a show, as Sade and her two backup singers often performed mini-choreographed routines during songs, but there was nothing forced or unnatural about the dance steps. Sade, who moved rhythmically to the music throughout the show, clearly recognized that being natural and at ease on stage is far sexier than a skimpy outfit.

Musically, some of the other peak moments were a stunning "No Ordinary Love"; a moving "By Your Side"; a buoyant "Paradise," and "King of Sorrow." After closing with "By Your Side," Sade and her band left to a deafening ovation. The three-song encore was highlighted by a vocally powerful "Is It a Crime," in which Sade let loose with great success.

To the audience's surprised delight, she and her backup singers returned for the new album's "It's Only Love That Gets You Through," a beautiful song that was almost overwhelmed by the absurdity of the moment. In a moment that rivaled a Backstreet Boys love fest, shrieking fans continually declared their love for Sade, who seemed genuinely humbled by their adoration. And every time someone else yelled, "I love you, Sade," the audience responded with deafening applause.

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