Friday, October 26, 2012

The Single Ladies Tour: Chicago (Oct. 25) Show Review

Chicago Tribune:  Dapper, soulful and weird R. Kelly on display at Arie Crown

R. Kelly knows how to make an entrance. At Arie Crown Theater on Thursday, he descended a white staircase in his dapper best – dressed in all white, his jacket flashing the word "single" down one sleeve. He called for all the ladies to make some noise, to which they happily obliged through a nearly two-hour set that spanned a dizzying amount of material from his two-decade-long career. In the first half hour alone, he touched on no less than 20 songs medley-style.

The frenetic pace of the first part of the set highlighted his showmanship, along with his five-piece band and three backup singers who switched song gears effortlessly. He breathlessly perused parts of "Fiesta," and "I'm A Flirt" along with dozens more medleys, with a slightly longer stop at "Ignition (Remix)." These songs would've been better served as whole versus the mega-mashup treatment. Still, the approach was entertaining, and his voice was in top form, which really shone during several a capellas he delivered and during "I Believe I Can Fly."

At times the show also felt like a live "Trapped in The Closet" episode (which he touched on, too), hitting absurd heights. R. Kelly confessed while singing that he broke up with his girlfriend last week because she didn't want to have his baby and also sang about being turned on by his own songs. He spent too much time for a karaoke portion, where the audience sang his tunes while he smoked a cigar at one of the two tended bars set up onstage. And things got weirder and exploitive, such as when female fans participated in a contest where they suggestively danced on a platform.

But the show truly jumped the shark when he picked a woman from the audience who was then chained inside a cage (after signing a release form) where R. Kelly joined her before it was covered by a sheet. The cage then shook and who knows what exactly happened inside it, but it seemed untoward. And that's the dichotomy of R. Kelly and his performance: the gifted singer, the consummate entertainer, the seductive philanderer and exploitive braggadocio ("Down Low (Nobody Has To Know")), the humorous double-entendre spinner ("You Remind Me Of Something"), the caring son ("I Wish"), the adept retro-soul singer/songwriter ("When A Man Lies"). While the tour may be billed for "The Single Ladies," R. Kelly was too convoluted to be convincing that it wasn't more self-serving than that.

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