There are some music fans who claim that the genre that was once known as R&B is dead. They argue that the soulful ballads, soothing melodies about making love, and cries for forgiveness that ruled in our households (and on radio airwaves) through the 1980s and 1990s are long gone. They lament that those classics have been replaced with “Rap&B,” where singers talk about taking someone’s chick, how much money they’re making, and swagging on these haters—basically any and everything that MCs are talking about in this day and age. But I’d like to counter that claim and suggest that they attend a Daniel Caesar concert.
The Highline Ballroom in Manhattan is one of those mid-major music venues in New York City that may not be stadium or arena status for artists, but its name carries weight for those who perform there. I’ve been to a few shows at Highline in my four years in New York, most recently a Kaytranada show that pretty much packed out the spot. While I figured a ticket to the Daniel Caesar show would be in high demand, I quickly realized exactly what the venue meant when it said the show was “sold out.” If capacity for the venue maxes out at 700 people, you could feel each and everyone of those 700 on this Black Friday night. The floor was completely filled to capacity and the only available viewing area was from the balcony.
I got there just as the show began, and I was surprised to see that the opener was Swedish singer Snoh Aalegra. My roommate put me on to her music a few weeks ago, and the soulful songstress transformed the mood of the space into that of an intimate jazz lounge. Aalegra wooed the crowd with songs from her EP Don’t Explain and her latest album, Feels, which includes her song “Nothing Burns Like The Cold,” performed sans a feature from Vince Staples. She also gave the crowd renditions of “What You Won’t Do For Love,” “I Wanna Love,” “In Your River,” and “Goosebumps” by Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar, before leaving the stage.
Then the curtain lifted to reveal a four-piece band ready and waiting. The sounds of “Freudian” filled the air, quickly joined by the voices of the audience. In fact, it seemed as if the crowd was just as excited to sing along as the headliner was to perform.
Caesar took the stage to a swell of applause and got right to work. It seemed as if everyone knew this show was going to be an interactive one, as Caesar would tease lyrics for the crowd to pick up on, and pick up they did. While performing his duet record “Best Part,” Caesar tasked the crowd with singing H.E.R.’s verse, and the female contingent seemed more than ready to help. Caesar moved through records from his debut studio album Freudian, including “Hold Me Down,” “Take Me Away,” “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song),” and “Loose.”
But the evening seemed to reach an elevated level of “The Feels” when the Toronto singer performed the dual-track run of “We Find Love” and “Blessed.” A scan of the crowd revealed emotion on people’s faces, from, “I’ve been there before” to “I’m there right now.” As cliché as the phrase is, I genuinely felt love in the air as Caesar sang the incredibly emotional ballad “Blessed:” “Yes, I’m a mess but I’m blessed to be stuck with you.”
The attendees were in tune with each other as much as they were with Daniel, and it seemed as if there were intimate moments being shared between lovers all over the room. After what appeared to be his last song, Caesar exited stage right—only to have his band drop the opening notes of his breakout single “Get You.”
Caesar returned to the stage for his final crescendo armed with a bottle of Hennessy (because that’s what real R&B stars do). At that moment, shrieks and screams came from the crowd, when someone proposed to his girlfriend. The crowd and singer performed as one, and as quickly as it seemed the show began, it ended.
As fans filed out of the Highline Ballroom, I couldn’t help but notice just how many people were still singing lines from “We Found Love” or humming the melody of “Blessed.” It seemed like hands were being held a little tighter, stares were held a little longer, and hugs and kisses between lovers were deeper felt. While we may not be living in the “Baby, take me back, please” days of R&B, artists like Daniel Caesar are making sure that we can still feel the love, one song at a time.