Photo Gallery: http://imgur.com/a/ECb43#0
When R. Kelly emerged onstage at the Baton Rouge River Center on Thurs, Feb. 14, dressed in a black hooded vest and jeans while brandishing a bedazzled microphone, his first words to the audience left a question resonating with the audience: "What took y'all so damn long to bring me here? I gotta know!"
With a sold-out performance and thousands of screaming fans, he's got a point, but his show last night certainly made up for any lost time.
One of the best-selling artists of all time, the King of R&B delighted his audience with a musical smorgasbord of offerings. At my and a friend's best guess, he sang about 40 songs but only gave up the full version of "Step in the Name of Love," "When a Woman Loves," and the classic "I Believe I Can Fly."
He paid tribute to his bump-and-grind sound of the 1990s while mixing in the — let's just call it what it is — baby-making R&B of his slightly more recent years.
He blazed through other classics, like "12 Play," which kept him on the map when he went solo after breaking away from Public Announcement in 1993, and "Gigolo." He touched on "I'm a Flirt" and "Fiesta," all while maintaining the suave, hyper-confidence R. Kelly is known for and taking advantage of Valentine's Day.
Even he knew how much history he was packing into the 90 minute set, when about 30 minutes in he made to leave the stage for the night. To the shouts of the audience, he ripped up the set list taped to the stage and read through about 30 songs he'd already touched on.
"Oh wait. Y'all right," he said, throwing the pages behind him, "I might have missed the mark by about 62 songs. Real R. Kelly fans know real R. Kelly music."
The lights dimmed, and he broke into "Half On a Baby" and "Down Low (remix)."
"I got a lot of songs, man," he laughed.
He obviously hasn't lost a bit of the swagger of tenacity it takes to be R.Kelly, interacting with the crowd with X-rated jokes and applauding when the audience took the lead on a few songs.
When he pulled a towel out to wipe his face, he asked a woman — in song — on each side of the stage to wipe him down in more ways than one.
"Welcome to the single ladies show!" he yelled into the mic, raising his glasses and glancing less than coyly at the audience.
It takes a rare man who can sing, a cappella, the word "booty" and make it sound sensual, even indulgent, but R. Kelly's "Feelin' on Yo Booty" does just that.
He launched into "Ignitition (remix)," still just as fun to listen to now as when it first hit the radio and you'd roll the windows down, hoping people heard it coming from your car.
R. Kelly did get serious when he thanked the audience ("25 years in the business and y'all still call on me") and his mother ("JoAnne Kelly, who art in heaven right now). He made a plea to end violence, especially in his hometown of Chicago, where "they're getting them at 11, 12. They're not even growing up anymore," which served as a segue into "I Wish" and "I Believe I Can Fly."
Ever the entertainer, R. Kelly wanted to "lead 'em out on an up-note," so he and his band gave it their all in the final song of the night: "Step to the Name of Love."
As the audience applauded the end, a representative each from the NAACP and the city of Baton Rouge came out to award R. Kelly with the NAACP's 2013 Unsung Hero Award and a key to the city.
"I'm going to come back now, " he promised. "I've got the key, just show me the door."