Lucy Pearl Loose At New York In-Store Performance

R&B supergroup played 45-minute set sandwiched between stops on sold-out, seven-city club tour.

NEW YORK — R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl put on a loose — and somewhat improvised — free miniconcert Monday evening at the NBA store in Manhattan.

The trio's 45-minute performance — sandwiched between stops on their sold-out, seven-city club tour — featured Rafael Saadiq, formerly of Tony Toni Toné, on bass and vocals; ex-En Vogue singer Dawn Robinson on vocals; and former A Tribe Called Quest rapper Ali Shaheed Muhammad handling DJ and conga duties.

The threesome were supported by a four-piece band — bass, guitar, drums and synthesizer — and three backup singers, all outfitted in NBA team jerseys. Lucy Pearl opened the set by paying tribute to the members' former bands. The crowd cheered as Robinson sang her last hit with En Vogue, "(Don't Let Go) Love" (RealAudio excerpt). It was followed by Tony Toni Toné's "Let's Get Down" and Tribe's "Award Tour."

The setlist appeared to be as relaxed as the performance. At one point, the music stopped altogether, and Saadiq said, "What are we gonna do now?" Then he conferred with his drummer, who kick-started the Tony Toni Toné hit "Just Me and You."

The introduction complete, the trio segued into selections from their self-titled debut CD, released Tuesday, including "Don't Mess With My Man" — the just-released, follow-up single to "Dance Tonight" (RealAudio excerpt), which was featured on the "Love and Basketball" soundtrack.

Saadiq's bass playing throbs with soul, and his distinctive voice is just as seductive as ever. Robinson's voice, always a standout when she was with En Vogue, is still in funky, flawless form on lead and backup. And with no choreographer to dictate her every move, she let her body translate the music, her fists punching out beats on the defiant "They Can't" and slipping in a taunting hip grind on the sassy "Trippin'."

Taking It Casually

About 300 fans lined the walkway that spiraled down to the basketball-themed retail store's "center court."

"I'd heard about them and I had to come," said Solomon Belton, 29, of Brooklyn. "I was a fan of all of their music that they did before, and I wanted to see what it would be like to have those three different styles come together."

Based on their attire, many in the crowd appeared to have skipped out of work early to catch the show, which was scheduled for 5 p.m., though the music didn't start until 5:40. The band itself was in casual mode, as if just getting together for a rehearsal. Robinson wore shredded jeans and a Portland Trailblazers sleeveless T-shirt, Saadiq covered his basketball jersey with a red wool serape and Muhammad, who said he doesn't follow sports "at all," wore a maroon button-down shirt and black pants.

Although the audience gave the band their full attention during the 45-minute set, Saadiq and Robinson repeatedly encouraged the audience to groove along with them. "Y'all alive up there?" Saadiq shouted to the crowd halfway through the set. "Come on New York, don't make us have to tell Indiana y'all don't know how to make some noise," he teased, referring to the New York Knicks' upcoming conference series against the Indiana Pacers."

Eschewing Labels

Lucy Pearl's eclectic music is being categorized as "neo-soul" — a music-industry term for black recording artists whose music is edgier than smooth R&B but lacks the roughness of rap/hip-hop.

They aren't thrilled with that characterization.

"It's very limiting, and that is just not what we're about," Robinson said after the performance.

"We all come from groups that weren't dealing with the norm," Muhammad added. "And even then, people were saying that we were doing something 'different,' as if we were the first or something. But look at the O'Jays, look at James Brown ... those cats were doing it then, too, breaking out of the mainstream. We're just working in that tradition that they started."