Houston music fans and those visiting the city for the big game scored a free concert experience Thursday night at Super Bowl LIVE, a festival style space built in Discovery Green, headlined by hometown R&B singer and sister of Beyoncé, Solange.
The Super Bowl cost millions of dollars to host and those dollars were on full display with an impressive, massive stage and video tower nestled right next to the Toyota Center, the downtown skyline behind us. It was also a short walk away from the George R. Brown Convention Center and the NFL Experience interactive showcase.
After battling with traffic (Uber is the way to go), we arrived in time for part of the Robert Glasper Experiment. This five-piece jazz duo set the mood for the evening with low-key and bass heavy grooves. Concentrating on songs from 2016’s ArtScience, the set included a guest appearance by Houston Christian rapper and BET Award winner Lecrae, spitting rhymes over the Herbie Hancock influenced sound.
No doubt, the majority of the crowd was there to see Solange and the space — in a large, converted parking lot — got extremely tight, very quickly before her 9:45 pm set. Several fans told me they were there because of the album, A Seat At The Table, one of the best of 2016. One fan said she had been following the Houston native since her 2012 buzz record, True, having traveled to New Orleans years ago to see her perform.
Kicking off with a melody of “Rise” and "Weary," fronting a band that included two horn players and two dancers alongside a full backing section, Solange immediately made the stage her own, using every inch of the platform to showcase her voice and expertly choreographed dance moves. Unlike her sister’s Top 40 chart-stormers, Solange’s sound is more subdued, layered, neo-soul. A few songs approached what might consider club-worthy, and at points she encouraged the crowd to dance, but for the most part, it was an exercise in sensual groove and melody.
The best response of the night came during her hit “Cranes In The Sky,” Solange hitting each and every high octave this side of Mariah Carey. The follow up tune, “Mad,” offered another dazzling display of lilting vocal trills that proved she wasn’t the only one in the family who could impress behind a microphone. Despite some rumors that he was in town, Lil' Wayne did not make an appearance to contribute to the duet.
Not to forget her Texas roots, Solange remixed the late-Tejano superstar “I Could Fall In Love,” by Selena into a whispery come-on to a would be lover. She then veered “F.U.B.U” into an appearance by H-town rapper Yungstar with several verses from his “Knockin’ Pictures Off da Wall,” gaining approval from many of the fellas in the crowd.
The encore served up her funkiest and most exhilarating spot, the ‘70s R&B throwback of “Don’t Touch My Hair,” with members of her band recalling a New Orleans chorus line fronted by the Temptations. It left the thousands of fans who had waited hours to see her happily streaming towards the exits. Recalling her sister's recent statements in the media, the socially conscious singer gave a shout out to her hometown and left with a poignant message.
“What an honor to grow up in such a great city...and such a diverse city,” she said before the end of the encore. "I want to send some love to my people of color...to my Mexican brothers and sisters...to my Muslim brothers and sisters. I love you and stand in solidarity with you.”
- If you want to get a good spot at Friday and Saturday's shows, it’s best to get there very early with a steel bladder. Maneuvering the crowd when the space filled up took the skill and agility of an Olympic gymnast.
- Parents, be advised that the Super Bowl LIVE space can fill up fast. If you have small children in strollers, it’s best to hang towards the back or near the main entrance, or you may find yourself navigating your Graco three-wheeler through thousands of bodies.
- The CultureMap photographer on assignment saw several instances in which people started pushing and shoving, leading to police having to take action. We’re all there to have fun, let’s try to be respectful of one another.