Meshell Ndegeocello wants to share her love for the music of Nina Simone with anyone inclined to listen. Those in attendance at World Café Live at The Queen in Wilmington on Wednesday night experienced Ndegeocello’s passion for Simone in a wonderfully brisk 90-minute set.
Ndegeocello’s rich soulful voice and booming bass propelled the nearly sold-out crowd through the Simone songbook that Ndegeocello performed on the 2012 release Pour une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone. From the highs of “Feeling Good” to the ballad standard of “Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair,” Ndgeocello captured the essence of Simone in one moment and transformed it into something fresh and new the next.
Before a fully seated Queen crowd that was in rapt silence, Ndegeocello and her band of guitarist Chris Bruce, keyboardist Jebin Bruni, and new drummer Abraham Rounds breathed life into Simone and her interpretations. Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” is loved best by Ndegeocello in Simone’s glorious take on it; its folk origins were barely visible in the jazzed up brilliance of Ndegeocello and Simone. Beyond Simone, Ndegeocello transformed The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” to a place beyond the imaginations of the Liverpool lads; gone was its trippiness in exchange for bold percussion and bass and guitar lines that floated one’s mind downstream.
In a show of discovery and the sublime, two moments stood out more than any other. The main set closer of “Four Women” was a knockout; Simone’s stories resonate still today and Ndegeocello brought beauty and devastation to the song with her voice and her bass. The final song of the night, Ndegeocello’s own “Oysters” from her 2011 album Weather, was just her voice and keys. Her storytelling and visuals, when matched with that of Simone and all of the songwriters beloved by Simone and Ndegeocello herself, were the perfect complement and ending to a night of musical reimagination and transcendence.