Meshell Ndegéocello Previews Next Album In Concert

Social commentary trumps flashy style at show.

SAN FRANCISCOMeshell Ndegéocello skipped most of her hits and didn't switch costumes Thursday night at the Fillmore Auditorium.

But she did deliver songs from her upcoming album along with some social commentary.

Even though some fans said they wanted to hear her popular songs, the crowd was spellbound once Ndegéocello's smoky voice brushed against the microphone.

The acclaimed singer/bassist strolled onstage without an introduction, wearing a black spandex shirt, baggy jeans and sporting a spiky afro. A silver chain looped from the front of her jeans to a back pocket.

She began the performance with "Beautiful," a ballad from her most recent disc, 1999's Bitter. Over the course of three albums, including 1993's Plantation Lullabies and 1996's Peace Beyond Passion, Ndegéocello (born Michelle Johnson) has written love songs that serenade both sexes. And when she delivered the first few notes of "Beautiful," lusty shouts erupted from men and women in attendance.

"You know those beautiful ones," Ndegéocello said. She paused and let her voice echo in the concert hall as if she were a diminutive Barry White. "The beautiful ones always make you wait."

"Take off your shirt. We want to see your wife beater!" squealed one woman, referring to a white T-shirt Ndegéocello wore under her black top.

"I don't beat my wife, baby," Ndegéocello said. "Do you mean my white, plain T-shirt? Only if you ask me to."

The woman and her friends collapsed into a din of swoons and shouts.

After that, the concert tempo picked up. Ndegéocello's band — a drummer, two guitar players and a keyboardist — turned "Grace" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Satisfy" (RealAudio excerpt) from Bitter, and "Isolation" from this year's The Hurricane soundtrack, into funky rock interludes with scorching solos. Ndegéocello played keyboards and bass during the set.

Ndegéocello skipped such hits as "Who Is He and What Is He to You," from Peace Beyond Passion, and "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," from Plantation Lullabies.

When she did perform fan favorites — including "I'm Diggin' You (Like an Old Soul Record)," from Plantation Lullabies, and Peace Beyond Passion's "Deuteronomy: Niggerman" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Ecclesiastes: Free My Heart" (RealAudio excerpt) — the audience sang along.

"I am a big fan, but I am a little disappointed that she didn't play more from Peace Beyond Passion," Richard Palencher of San Francisco said. "But she's so good. It was a great show."

Ndegéocello also threw in some social commentary when she sang songs from an album she said would be released in February. One was "Dead Nigger Boulevard," a title that refers to streets named after slain civil-rights leaders.

"It's funny how those places are always ghettos," Ndegéocello said.

Like much of her earlier work, the song explored themes of racial oppression and intellectual freedom. "Jesse [Jackson] said, 'I am somebody,' " she sang. As the crowd joined in, the band fired up the song with frenzied drum, guitar and keyboard work.

Then, Ndegéocello took a bow and left the stage, ending the two-hour show as starkly as she had begun it.