Sunday, February 24, 2013

Show Review: R. Kelly at the Baton Rouge River Center

By Randy Faucheux
Posted Feb 18

Or, How I Stopped Worrying About My Race and Learned to Believe in God

I think it’s pretty safe to say that nearly everyone in the Deep South has a heightened awareness of race, but being an introspective person who’s one semester shy of a Master’s degree in cultural anthropology – a degree sought under the mentorship of a well-respected professor of African American studies – I’m probably a little too aware of not just race in general, but specifically my own whiteness. I think about it a lot, and how it affects my interactions with people of other races as well as people of my own race.

But, at R. Kelly’s Feb. 14 concert at the River Center, as one of literally less than 100 white people in a sold-out arena of about 10,000 people, I felt such a strong positive energy flowing in every direction around me that I actually managed to forget those worries for at least five full minutes.

My awareness returned when a man standing next to me, in a display of amusement and kinship with the white boy grinning from ear to ear at the R. Kelly concert, looked at me and said, “He’s a good performer, huh?”

“That’s an understatement,” I said. “He’s not even human.”
I’m still not convinced he’s human. Watching R. Kelly (modestly dressed and backed by an equally modest band) completely transform a room that size into a giant, gooey puddle of absolute bliss, it started to occur to me that he may very well be something like a god. His ability to exert complete control over the crowd, while singing with near operatic dexterity for almost an hour and a half straight without ever running out of breath or slipping out of tune, only served to strengthen this theory.

Though if R. Kelly is a god, he’s certainly the most obscene god of them all. Would your god pick up a pair of underwear that had just been removed from a woman’s body and hurled at him, smell it, and put it in his back pocket? (If so, please contact me and tell me how to become a member of your church.)

After tearing through a 45-minute medley of his better-known material at a rate of about a song per minute, Kelly switched gears and slowed things down a bit. When he ran out of songs on his set-list, he offered to perform any song the crowd wanted to hear. Any song – if his band wasn’t equipped to perform it, he’d do it a cappella. This reversal of roles from master to servant sparked a new theory – R. Kelly is not just a god, he’s also a savior.

Before closing the night with a full-length performance of “I Believe I Can Fly” and what I think was possibly a Sam Cooke cover, Kelly delivered his farewell speech to his followers. Only moments after I legitimately thought, “I wish this show would last forever,” he told us he wished he could stay and perform for us forever (and unless he’s the best actor in the world, I’m pretty sure he meant it) but that he couldn’t. This sort of debunked my god theory a little bit, but I’m still not convinced that to this sold out audience, R. Kelly wasn’t at least a god for that hour and a half.

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