JILL SCOTT with NIKKA COSTA, ERYKAH BADU and DIVINE EARTH ESSENCE at the Molson Amphitheatre, August 29. Tickets: $25.50-$85. Attendance: 13,000. Rating: NNNN
new york squealer nikka costa might fancy herself a badass soul diva, but the capacity crowd at the Molson Amphitheatre Wednesday wasn't buying it. With hair-shaking blues-bar histrionics that were more Amanda Marshall than Betty Davis, Costa's insufferable funk shtick was as transparent as her kimono. "Can I get a soul clap?" she begged the crowd. "Only if you leave, sister," the guy behind me muttered.
By contrast, in the 12 months and one week since Jill Scott last played Toronto, the Philadelphia soul shouter has gone from underground diva to full-fledged R&B queen. With none of the flaky ankhs and incense of headliner Erykah Badu or the overstyled sheen of no-show Alicia Keys, Scott represents a true R&B alternative, still poppy enough to capture the crowd but free of the worn-out clichés.
Wednesday's hour-plus set was a confirmation of that status. With a seven-piece band behind her, Scott offered radically reworked versions of songs from her Who Is Jill Scott? disc, beatboxing, play-acting and switching back and forth between a sweet smile and a nasty scowl depending on the mood of the song.
What's most remarkable is that the more successful Scott's become, the further out she seems willing to push her music. Much of the recast material had an abstract R&B feel and double-time beats that were closer to Scott's work with UK junglists 4Hero than anything in the American soul scene.
That, in case there's any doubt, is a good thing.