Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Los Angeles Times: The Down Low Top Secret Tour Review

Heating Up the Place : R. Kelly's Forceful Voice, Rather Than the Gimmicks, Make the Show


There's a reason why R. Kelly felt the need to drop his trousers in front of 12,000 adoring fans on Sunday at the Pond of Anaheim, his eyes closed and arms held skyward as if caught in some type of religious rapture.

It wasn't just about teasing the screaming women in the audience or revealing his taste in briefs. It was all about self-expression--showing his fans that he wants to let go.

And throughout his 90-minute performance, Kelly thoroughly let go, pouring unmitigated sexuality and dynamic soul into each and every vocal.

The Chicago native's combination of sexual bravado and musical invention has made the singer-writer-producer one of the leading forces in R&B today, with three million-plus-selling albums, a string of hit singles (the latest was "Down Low") and one of the most eagerly anticipated tours of the season.

More than Kelly's pelvic thrusts and call-and-response theatrics, more than such stage gimmicks as a computerized R. Kelly head that helped him sing during "You Remind Me of Something," it was Kelly's explosive, forceful voice that left the night's greatest impression.

But he gave his vocals some strong competition with his inclination to remove his clothes, which he indulged repeatedly during the show. The more he took off, the louder the fans wailed, especially when the tempo slowed for throaty, seductive renditions of such suggestive ballads as "Slow Dance," "Seems Like You're Ready," "Bump N' Grind" and "Tempo Slow."

No matter how vulgar or outrageous Kelly's comments were or the action on stage became (at one point he emerged from a bathtub that was also occupied by a writhing, bikini-clad dancer), the female fans screamed with abandon.

This kind of erotic expression is often misused by R&B lovers, from Michael Jackson to Jodeci. In performance, it usually comes off as staged and distasteful, lacking any real emotional heat.

But somehow Kelly's approach--like those of Teddy Pendergrass or Prince--came across as strangely intimate, as if his pleading voice and forthright yearnings could somehow make each woman in the room feel as if he were speaking individually to her.

Kelly captured this intimacy most strongly with a stirring rendition of "I Can't Sleep Baby (If I)," a song about losing the love of his life and wanting her back. Opening the song, he removed the trademark sunglasses that symbolize the sexual superhero, then filled the air with ethereal, gospel-tinged tones. The sex of the previous 40 minutes evaporated and was replaced by love, and Kelly revealed a real heart. That, more than dropping his pants, was the show's real liberating moment.

Opening acts Solo, Xscape and LL Cool J also turned in highly effective, though brief performances. Xscape was particularly impressive with its vocal harmonies, especially during its hit "Who Can I Run To."

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