Quite a crowd came out last night to watch Maxwell's return to the spotlight, some eight years after the release of his previous album. There was a "grown and sexy" vibe to the crowd -- the majority of the fans were over 30 and 'dressed to a T.' And although couples dominated the crowd, plenty of single ladies -- some of which hoping to score some face time with the headliner -- were also in attendance.
Opener Chrisette Michele started off her set with the title track from her No. 1 album, Epiphany, accompanied by the band NuJynisis out of LA. Sound in the venue was sufficiently loud with full-sounding bass, but some of the high-end vocals and instruments seemed to distort. Regardless, Michele blew me away. I was fully aware of her classy, sweet-sounding voice; I just didn't realize how powerful she is. Her radio singles showcase her Etta James-style vibrato with songs like "Fragile," but watching how she belted out "Blame It On Me" highlighted another dimension to her talent.
Michele was followed by Chi-Town's emcee-turned-actor, Common, whose set focused heavily on his love songs. While I'd have liked to have seen more of his political and socially relevant material, the decision to focus on the romantic stuff made sense given who he was opening for.
He mashed-up his songs a little, rapping "Come Close" over D'Angelo's "You're My Lady" and "Love of My Life" over Camp Lo's "Luchini." The biggest crowd reactions came from "Testify," and a live freestyle he performed. (Throwing several St. Louis landmarks into the verse didn't hurt.) Other highlights included a battle-style DJ set from DJ Cutty from New York (not to be confused with St. Louis' DJ Cuddy), who chopped up some Michael Jackson and Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments," and Common hitting a 'backspin' while performing 2008's "Universal Mind Control."
After an unnecessarily long intermission, Maxwell made his entrance to the stage - and believe me; the ladies went NUTS. The R&B crooner was dressed like one of the Men in Black, wearing a suit and tie with shades. The setup included a full band, four huge moving display screens, and a Y-shaped stage extending out to the crowd. The stage had three 'lifts,' allowing the singer to periodically disappear and then re-emerge from the floor.
He electrified the audience with well-known classics such as "Lifetime," "Fortunate" and "Til the Cops Come Knockin" along with favorites off his new album, BLACKsummers'night.
Maxwell, "Bad Habits"
He certainly knew how to play to his audience, proclaiming at one point that "There aren't enough panties on the stage right now!" Watching women in the front row melt as he serenaded them must have been what it was like to watch Marvin Gaye perform 30 years ago.
The finale was a performance of "Pretty Wings" with feathers falling from the sky, followed by His first mega-hit "Ascension," where he brought the band out to the front of the stage. He seemed genuinely humble as he introduced the band members and wished his fans goodnight.
Sidenotes: The band featured two St. Louis natives; Shedrick Mitchell playing the organ and Keyon Harrold on the trumpet, who each had solos during Maxwell's set. Also, shout outs to the folks doing sign-language for the event. They were mad into it!