R&B/soul music fans had just enough time to nurse those hangovers before ringing in the New Year with Fantasia Barrino. Fantasia has become a household name on the strength of a solid singing career, a stint on Broadway and a reality show about her life. She played to a packed house, regardless of the negative press she's been receiving as of late - mostly resulting from an alleged affair with a married man. Saturday night's show was the last stop on her Back To Me tour, in support of her album of the same name.
The show opened with a short set from Kandi Burruss. A former member of the '90s R&B group Xscape, the Atlanta native is attempting to parlay her success as a songwriter (and, more recently, a reality star) into a solo career. Kandi's soft, vibrato-heavy vocals haven't changed much over the years, but the pop-friendly production on tracks such as "Fly Above" feature all the crispy snare-rolls and syrupy synths of today's most popular acts of the genre. Kandi mixed in the old with the new by including Xscape's "My Little Secret" alongside new material from her sophomore album, Kandi Koated.
Singer/actor Eric Benet was up next. Accompanied by a three-piece band with a single backup vocalist, he performed nearly every big hit from his fifteen-year career. The biggest crowd reactions came in response to duets such as "Feel Good" and "Spend My Life with You," and for Benet's 1999 version of Toto's "Georgy Porgy." Much to the approval of the ladies in attendance, the debonair songster started out in a three-piece suit, but was wearing much less by the time it was all said and done. The band sounded great, and Benet's voice was just as smooth live as it is on his records.
Fantasia gave an emotional and genuinely fun performance, although some of the louder songs were marred with distortion. As her set started, a keyboardist, a horn section and three backup singers joined the mix. A video screen would drop down periodically with pre-recorded song intros, which helped to anchor the running theme of Fantasia's show; a loose timeline of different musical eras. The concept was well-received and engaging, despite the lackluster production value of some of the video segments.
Fantasia began with a big band aesthetic, featuring all-white tuxedo jackets and "Hi Dee Ho" chants (via the legendary Cab Calloway). The intro led into "Selfish (I Want You to Myself)" followed by "Free Yourself" and the current single "I'm Doin' Me." The show then shifted to a '50s doo-wop vibe for "Trust Him," and back to the '20s for "Collard Greens and Cornbread." She then covered Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain," mixing it with the Jackson 5's "I Don't Know Why I Love You." After her take on Prince's version of "Kiss," the show changed gears to the sixties, featuring a cover of the Beatles' "Come Together."
At one point the band played an instrumental version of "Summertime" (likely a nod to Fantasia's season on American Idol) which featured a horn solo, a keyboard solo, and the most enthusiastic cowbell player I've seen since Will Ferrell. 'Tasia returned to cover Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good" and Prince's "Purple Rain" before performing "Bittersweet" and closing with the chorus of "Square Biz" in honor of the recently deceased Teena Marie.
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