There is a heavenly light in New York’s Bowery Ballroom at two in the afternoon. Being that it’s a nighttime place, few would know it, but the sun just pours in all day long through a wide, arched, south-facing window. It’s at this bright, odd hour that Solange Knowles, as sunny and ethereal as her name would suggest, arrives to rehearse for her second performance in a sold-out run of shows this past December. Dressed smartly in a flounced tunic, a pair of pumpkin-colored trousers and T-strap heels, she looks as if she could just as easily be heading to a job interview, and her hair, the only unruly detail in this otherwise business-chic look, forms a broad, hazy black halo around her delicate features.
It’s for the untamed elements in Solange’s personal style—that, and the fact that she deigns to pal around with the Brooklyn bohemia—that the media often pegs her as the “free-spirited” (or more damning, “hipster”) younger sister to the astronomically famous Beyoncé. The simple exercise of compare and contrast that’s typical to any set of siblings is extrapolated and hyperbolized, or, as Solange succinctly puts it in her leaked, 2008 single, F*ck the Industry (Signed Sincerely), “I will never be picture perfect Beyoncé…but everything I’m not makes me everything I am.”
The tabloids are just another place she happens to find herself, no thanks to her god-given name, but something in her focus before the show tells you that the place she most desperately wants to be judged is here, onstage.
Solange pulled together her current live band with the help of Dev Hynes, her guitarist and co-writer/producer on 2012’s True EP, who also makes records under the alias Blood Orange. Though the group has only been rehearsing collectively for about a month, they function like a well-oiled machine, casually half-stepping the choreography as they run through a near-identical set to the one they performed last week at Bowery: each of the seven songs off True, plus two cuts off her 2008 album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. Solange makes little adjustments to almost everything, recalibrating the levels in her earpiece — “Did something shift in the middle? Sounded like all the subs went out and I was trippin’ ” — and grilling the lighting guy on his cues. “Just remember, on that last hook, to slowly bring up the lights.” She even jumps offstage to hear the sound from the house floor, arms crossed at her chest, gaze fixed, foot tapping.
Everything seems to be going smoothly until a laptop crashes, and the uh-ooh-oh-oh’s on the backing track to Locked In Closets are coming in a beat too soon and throwing everyone off. The onus is on percussion, and Patrick Wimberly, Solange’s tour drummer and one-half of the Brooklyn band Chairlift, hustles to reprogram the audio. They run through the song several times, the glitch appearing and disappearing at random, before going into full-on damage control: a home computer is fetched, the Apple geniuses are summoned and Solange takes a seat on the floor, trying not to panic.
The kink is eventually worked out, and everyone says a small prayer for the software before setting about learning Cosmic Journey, an airy ballad off Sol-Angel that Solange would like to play to bulk up the set. Here, she goes into full-on coach mode, drilling the harmonies, percussion and melody, but everyone is unnerved from the first hiccup, and seems to struggle to get their parts correct.
Meanwhile, members of the opening band, Sinkane, who are well past due to take the stage for their own soundcheck, have collected in a pool of instruments and nerves, waiting while Solange asks her band to take it one more time, from the top.
Read more: TheFader