Friday night R. Kelly performed in New York at the former Felt Forum, now a theater named after a bank that went belly-up because of the excesses of the previous decade. The tour was Kells’ “Ladies Make Some Noise Tour,” in which the default mode for the evening involved a) ladies b) making some noise, particularly when lyrics involving doing the nasty were thrust from the stage. Oh, and there was also thrown underwear—from both sides of the stage.
The show kicked off with Kells covering Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” and led into a blistering medley of his hits from over the years, including the still-irresistible “I’m A Flirt” and the hip-shaking “Hotel,” while he and former Public Announcement associate Andre “Giant” Boykins raced around the stage, mugging for the women in the audience and behind a couple of velvet ropes on the stage. A few songs in, the Pied Piper of R&B asked if a stagehand could maybe remove a carpet that was tripping him up while he careened from side to side; he then turned his request into a song, one that, he noted, could probably make it to the radio as soon as he got to a recording studio. (He was right.) That segment of the show ended with what would be the first Michael Jackson homage of the night: “Number One” set in a movie theater (actually, Chicago’s Chicago Theater) that was showing a movie starring R. called, of course, “Chiller.” (Perhaps that’s why R. wore a long silver trenchcoat for that performance.)
During the long stretch of foreplay that was this extended medley, a female audience member threw a pair of underwear onstage. (No word on whether or not it was from Wal-Mart.) Kells responded to this by setting up a screen onstage, ducking behind it for as long as it would take to remove and replace his pants, and tossing a pair of white boxer briefs back into the crowd. He strenuously told the security guards to let the lucky fan who grabbed his bloomers hold onto them. (It should be noted that this happened approximately 35 minutes into the show.) The veering between down-and-dirty sexuality and innate goofiness only added to his innate charms as a performer, and made me think that if anyone should do a big-name duet with him right now, it should be Shakira, who seems to realize the delicate balance between “sexy” and “fun” just as well as he does. (Hey, both of their albums have been pushed back—Kelly’s Untitled is now set for a Dec. 1 release.)
The sex-drenched nature of the proceedings was a bit interesting, given that “LMSNT” is Kelly’s first tour since the child-pornography trial that ended with the singer being acquitted on all 14 charges. He kept the proceedings light for most of the night, but at one point he just broke, saying that he was happy to be back after his “court case” and that through the power of Jesus, he was still around. Ben Sisario at The New York Times transcribed the song that came from this realization:
Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus.
I’m still here.
I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the goodness of him.
Sadly this did not lead into a performance of Kells’ gospel-pop foray “U Saved Me”; instead he performed the vastly inferior “Heaven, I Need A Hug,” which did not lead into spontaneous hugging happening in the audience. (Swine flu fears, maybe.) A few more songs and everyone ducked offstage, which led to Kelly, standing in front of a plaque honoring Michael Jackson’s Bad, talking about the loss of the King Of Pop, and what it was like to meet him, and how he’d be missed by the pop world, how it was so crazy that Michael Jackson was a fan of his. This led to this clip being blasted into the screen in all of its grainy, YouTubian glory:
What else could he do to follow this slew of sex and self-elevation than to come back out, wearing a crisp white suit, and dedicate two Sam Cooke songs to his mother? “Bring It On Home To Me” was spot-on and excellent, but one had to wonder what sort of upheaval he was thinking of while crooning “A Change Is Gonna Come.” No time for introspection, though: He had two more songs to perform, the smooth “Step In The Name Of Love” and “Happy People,” which is one of the most underrated songs of his catalog. Keep ‘em dancing, even as they leave: That seemed to be R.’s mission for the evening.
Michael Jackson dancing to Ignition [YouTube]
R. Kelly [Official site]
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