By Mandi Kimes
Judith Hill started the show playing a hand drum, singing a Capella and wailing, before her band crashed in full throttle. So many colors hit the stage of Crescent Ballroom. She was dressed in a maroon blouse with stylish black pants and a gold cape with diamonds around her neck. It's as if Stevie Wonder's band showed up with a more stylish look and Hill was the more polished Alicia Keys on vocals. Seriously; not a single member lacked in style. Each member had their own look while style remaining in the frame of mind for a funky blues R&B band: her bassist father donned a top hat, her organist mother wore a floppy black sunhat, and the woodwinds player wore a red fedora.
She sang through the next song while exclaiming "When I say ‘TURN’ you say ‘UP’!" I wonder how many years that guitarist has been wailing like he did during this song. After “Turn Up,” I think ‘Goddamn it's only been two songs and it's already sweaty in here.’ If I wasn't reviewing and in my winter clothes I would have been dancing so hard.
She sits down at the piano for the third song, which starts like a jazz ballad, before realizing that she’s covering “Pure Imagination”. This cover is so sweet, especially with it being just her on piano. Fourth song slows things down with just her and piano again. Her voice really soars on that. This ballad sounds like the kind of song someone would sing as their winning tune in a vocal competition (maybe if she won The Voice?) Halfway through, the band kicks in, to which my friend states: "I'm glad that got upbeat because I was about to cry." They even threw in a flute solo. Nice.
Before beginning “A Beautiful Life”, Hill says, "This song is about...being grateful for all the beautiful things in life." (Ok, I'm gonna to cry.) After the first chorus, I realize that this song makes me want to call my mom. The way she commands the whole room just by using her voice is astonishing. She doesn't need a fancy light show or dancers or extravagant outfits. Her sheer talent alone is enough to grab your attention. After the ballads, they turned up the heat with a cover of "No Diggity," which my friend was enjoying a little too much. Hill's dad on bass proves where she got her funk from.
I moved to sit down at a bench on the side during another upbeat number, and I'm so glad I did because I saw a guy dancing like this was his last show. He let completely loose and it was so entertaining to watch with the crazy stuff happening on stage. He held his side a couple times which told me he was gonna be in pain the next day, but he didn't seem to care one bit.
Hill left the stage and her mom took the seat at the piano. The song started with just a flute solo, before the band slowing chimed in. Her mom is a classic soul - the rambunctious night club turned into a swanky jazz club in just seconds with her classical jazz piano chops. I almost wish I had someone to dance with. It's here that I realize how amazing it is that one band can wear so many hats; to jump from straight funk to jazz to R&B without flaw is astonishing.
Hill joined the stage again, this time without cape. She covered "The Way You Make Me Feel," which is really an ode to a man she sang alongside before his unexpected death. This Michael Jackson cover really allowed the saxophonist to shine. She transitioned into a song called "Get Wild Tonight," which got all the guys excited. The song took a turn for the blues, as she wailed her way into a key change. I really should have brought my earplugs, because after the past hour of in-your-face talent and her inner Rick James coming out in the last sing, my ears were gonna hurt the next day.
For her encore, Hill returned to the stage alone to cover Joni Mitchell's "River," which had the audience clapping along. Given the season, the cover seemed appropriate and would have been perfect, if there was not one really loud girl near the bar. Despite that, Hill reminded why we came to Crescent Ballroom that night.
This show was more soul, funk, and R&B packed onto one stage than I know what to do with. They even through in some jazz influence. This is the kind of band I strive to be in. Even though the band graced the stage with 100% talent and the resume to back them up, I was still surprised at the turnout. This show definitely should have been sold out. I guess next time Judith Hill comes through Phoenix, it will be an even bigger party.