Esthero at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Sunday 24 July 2005
In the seven-year hiatus between Esthero's debut album, "Breath From Another," and her latest effort, "Wikked Lil' Grrrls," she has abandoned her moody trip-hop vibe in favor of a more up-tempo, danceable style. But at the 9:30 club on Sunday night, she led her nine-piece band through a nearly two-hour set that balanced the new sound with her older material.
Esthero periodically treated the audience to a cappella snippets of tracks from her debut, to wild applause. After an ecstatically received version of "Superheroes," she exclaimed, "You're making me feel like you don't like my new [stuff]!" But her newer material received quite a reaction as well: Shouts of "Sing it, girl!" during the ballad "Gone" distracted Esthero, inducing a fit of giggles. And the crowd even sang and danced to an acoustic version of "We R in Need of a Musical Revolution," despite its coming at the end of a late night. (An unadvertised R&B opening set by one of Esthero's backup singers, Toya Alexis -- a former "Canadian Idol" contestant -- delayed the main set.)
A few of Esthero's songs featured overly dramatic arrangements and a blasting horn section, most notably the saucy and off-color "If Tha Mood." Even through such theatrical numbers, Esthero never stopped smiling -- and rarely stopped dancing. During her final song, "Balmes (a Better Life)," she bounced through the crowd and then vanished silently backstage, hopefully buoyed enough by the crowd's relentless enthusiasm to stick with this style and not completely reinvent herself again.
-- Catherine P. Lewis