Live: Eric Roberson and Algebra Blessett learn the Art of Cool | Music

Live: Eric Roberson and Algebra Blessett learn the Art of Cool


Eric Roberson, Algebra Blessett
Motorco, Durham
Sunday, July 27, 2014
  • Photo by Ronald Parker

The Triangle’s recent two-week spate of live music has been one of a sublimely interlinked set of unrelated acts, each under the protective nimbus of soul music. It all began on July 17 at downtown Raleigh’s Red Hat Ampitheater with legendary R&B man-band, New Edition. It will end there on Wednesday night when John Legend strikes that final piano key on the Red Hat stage. But in the 13 days between these two concerts, the Triangle’s music venues have played host to a diverse roster of soul-related artists—all part of a musical gene pool which reads like a festival lineup.

On separate dates, vocalists Lauryn Hill (Red Hat), Lisa Fischer (NC Museum of Art), Maxwell (DPAC) serenaded audiences. Renowned, soulful house DJ Julius the Mad Thinker lit up Mosaic Wine Lounge’s dance floor, and J. Cole sweated out his hip-hop soul for back-to-back shows at Lincoln Theatre. Even Beck got in on the soul spree during his Red Hat set.

In fact, that’s an apt description for the the past two weeks, which eventually found its bounce settling into a three-hour, strict R&B groove on Sunday night when Mr. Independent Soul vocalist Eric Roberson (or “Erro” as his longtime fans call him), and special guest, Grammy-winning singer, Algebra Blessett, brought class, love and laughs to Durham’s Motorco. Blessett’s style—she was crowned by a tightly braided updo and covered by a floral-printed, yellow summer gown—demanded attention even before she sang a single note. If that wasn’t enough, she’d gradually win over the entire crowd with her Atlanta, ‘round-the-way-girl, charm, plus the few songs she shared, like the heartached “What Happened?” from her 2008 debut album, Purpose.

Shortly after Blessett's set, Roberson—decked out in a flamingo-colored blazer and matching plaid necktie—hit the stage with an impromptu spoken-word poem about how hot it was in the concert hall, before he jumped into the ballad, “Picture Perfect.” Then, while singing, Roberson took every chance he could to stick his face into the view of every camera phone within his reach. At one point, he even took one lucky woman’s phone and twirled around on stage with it and sang to it as if it were an actual person.

There are certainly enough bona fide slow jams in Roberson’s 10-album discography for him to make his concerts date nights, but the 37-year-old soul crooner is more interested in range rather than complete romance. He holds the stage as an entertainer more than just a singer, which may be why he and The Foreign Exchange frontman Phonte Coleman have built a brotherhood based on an equal appreciation of music, showmanship and comedy. It’s hard to imagine the two sharing the same stage and being able to get through one song together between all of their on-stage shenanigans. Maybe it wasn’t that bad when Coleman didn’t make the surprise appearance that some of the folks in attendance expected.

The long breaks between “Borrow You,” the Lalah Hathaway duet “Dealing” and “Mr. Nice Guy,” were filled by Roberson’s satirized, jazz-ditty version of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa,” and a freestyled love song made up with words like, “persnickety,” “nymphomaniac,” “conundrum,” and “diabetes,” terms he let the crowd choose.

He doesn’t need to do any of this, but it’s what separates him from the rest of today’s reigning R&B dudes who may only have their image, dance moves and mainstream hits to rely on. He’s a consummate performer, an attractive personality and a pearly voice. So, when he’s not as whimsical, he dives into love testimonials like “She,” and “Pretty Girl,” two examples of why his cult-like following has venerated him throughout his career.

Compared to the rest of the past two weeks’ soul stars, Roberson’s plead for our devotion sounded so much more personal.

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