Kem | Babyface Chaifetz Arena February 11, 2012
The past few weeks have been particularly rough on soul music lovers. They have experienced the loss of Etta James, Don Cornelius, and now the incomparable Whitney Houston. The breaking news of Whitney's passing was still fresh in everybody's heads during this weekend's Love and Laughter show at the Chaifetz Arena on Saint Louis University's campus. Without bringing down the mood of the concert, Ricky Smiley, Babyface, and Kem took the opportunity to pay homage to some of our icons who have recently passed on, in the spirit of celebrating their lives and legacies.
Local artist Brittney J started things off promptly at 8:00; with a twenty minute set of Top 40-style r&b. With four background dancers and a repertoire of suggestive choreography at her disposal, the eighteen-year-old singer had plenty of poise and confidence onstage, although her songs may have been better suited for a younger crowd. Her club-ready tracks like "That's How We Roll" and "Body Control" were loud and upbeat, in contrast to the adult contemporary ballads of the evening's other performers.
Shortly after host/comedian Rickey Smiley emerged from backstage, he called for a moment of silence in honor of Whitney Houston before lightening up the mood. Smiley was able to deliver a few laughs during the intermissions -- despite the surprisingly short amount of time he was on stage. The former ComicView host had less than a half an hour total; a little disappointing considering how prominent he was on the billing. His funniest bit was an impromptu fashion show with audience members as the contestants. The winner, whom Smiley called "Bernice Jenkins," won $100 cash for her black fur church ensemble.
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds opened his set around 8:40, with flashing red and blue lights for "It's No Crime." Edmonds wore an all-black suit while his four piece band had more of a Blues Brothers aesthetic (minus the hats). The band played nice and tight, and Babyface still has one of the coolest, most disarming voices in the business, although you could hear him straining a little when he put too much 'stank' on it. The bass player supplied backup vocals on a couple of songs -- which nobody expected --but it worked well.
Things got a little emotional when Babyface paid tribute to Whitney; he became visibly choked-up while recalling the times they worked together before singing "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," a song he wrote for her. The second half of his set was a medley of songs he'd written for other artists, which was a testament to how influential he was in the music industry during the '80s and '90s. A couple of his biggest records were absent (most notably "Whip Appeal"), but the setlist was still quite satisfying, and his performance was simply amazing. Following behind a 30-plus year veteran like Babyface can be an intimidating prospect, but Kem proved that he's able to hold his own. He took to the stage with a full band, opening with the theme to Soul Train in remembrance of Don Cornelius before transitioning into "You're On My Mind." It seemed like Kem tore through the first few songs at an unusually fast pace, but he eventually slowed down and got into a good rhythm. His setlist was similar (but not identical) to the show he played last year at the Fox, and his jazzy vocals (which are often compared to Al Jarreau's) were once again on point.
As he now does at all of his shows, Kem played the piano on a couple of his songs, and took some time out to give praise. This time around, he made a point to address a 'hater' in the audience, before giving the fellas in attendance some advice on love. A little presumptuous, perhaps, but he got the response he was looking for from the ladies. After a solid set ending with "Love Calls" (no encore this time), the finale was marred by technical difficulties; it was the premiere for his "You're on My Mind" video, but the audio was damaged or missing for the majority of it, rendering it unwatchable.
Babyface Setlist: It's No Crime For The Cool in You Every Time I Close My Eyes Never Keeping Secrets Soon As I Get Home Sunshine Where Will You Go Exhale (Shoop Shoop) Love Me in a Special Way Two Occasions Don't Be Cruel Every Little Step Roni Rock Wit'cha Every Little Step Can We Talk Ready or Not My, My, My I'll Make Love to You End of the Road
Kem Setlist: You're On My Mind Brotha Man True Love Heaven Share My Life If it's Love Find Your Way (Back in My Life) I Can't Stop Loving You Golden Time of Day Love Calls