Five quick thoughts on R. Kelly's show Sunday at Franklin County Veterans Memorial:
(1) The target demo for this show was significantly older, blacker and better dressed than me. I realized very quickly how isolated I am in my little white niche, and that I need to consider trading in my grimy blue hoodie for a necktie next time.
(2) I was amazed at how many songs he managed to squeeze in under two hours. He was able to do this mostly because a good chunk of the songs were reduced to a single verse or even a few lines of a cappella. Or in the case of "Real Talk," many lines of a cappella. Not long into the show, mega-hits "Fiesta," "I'm a Flirt (Remix)" and "Ignition (Remix)" were rattled off nonchalantly in quick succession, never to be heard from again, Kellz seemingly impervious to the tradition of saving your best for last. The rapid-fire approach allowed for a corny bit about 30 minutes into the show in which Kelly pretended to be done with his setlist, only to pull a sheet of "scrap paper" out of his back pocket with 62 more songs on it. This was the Guided By Voices concert of R&B concerts. Which brings me to another thing I learned quickly: My knowledge of R. Kelly's catalog is extremely cursory. I genuinely love the man's music, but I've experienced it mostly through YouTube and mix CDs, not long hours buried deep in his two-decade discography. So when he let us know that "Real R. Kelly fans know real R. Kelly music," I was slightly ashamed.
(3) R. Kelly is known for being, to put it kindly, a bit eccentric. Sunday's show was as weird as you'd want it to be and no more. This was not two hours of "Trapped In the Closet"-level strangeness, though there were moments of bizarre performance art, about which more in a moment. The setup was all white everything: Kellz began singing behind a white curtain, which soon revealed a white staircase flanked by a band and backup singers in white, plus two white "Singles Bars" staffed by bartenders in white tuxedos. This was billed as the Single Ladies tour, which seems like kind of a blatant Beyonce ripoff, but whatevs — it's not, like, an inappropriate name for an R. Kelly tour or something — thus, a few single ladies from the crowd were soon invited to sit at the bars. Kellz was decked out in all white too, including a jacket that read "SINGLE" down his left sleeve in flashing lights and "V. I. ME" on the back, also in flashing lights. He asked someone in the front row to wipe the sweat off his face with a towel. At one point, white-clad roadies brought out a throne for Kellz, which he sat in for about 30 seconds before standing up again and sending it away. This was all mildly goofy, but about two-thirds through the show things took a turn for the WTF. The lights went down, and the roadies pulled a cage on stage. Lights back up, and there's Kelly pulling a woman (an actress?) out of the audience. He led her into the cage and chained her arms up, then the cage was covered with a white sheet, the lights went back down, the cage started shaking and we saw a silhouette of Kelly having (probably?!) fake sex with her. Lights back up, sheet off the cage, and both parties were buttoning their pants. Apparently this was not as much of a turnoff as I imagined because during the "When A Woman Loves"/"Step In the Name of Love" encore, loads of women from the crowd climbed on stage and swarmed around Kelly until I couldn't see him anymore.
(4) Aside from that sort of insanity, let's not forget what put R. Kelly on the map in the first place: The man can sing! His flourishes at the end of "I Wish" showed an instrument that hasn't lost its power with time. When he belted out "I Believe I Can Fly" to close the main set, it could have been the original 1996 studio track, except it felt vibrant and alive and right-here-right-now. He also sang opera(!), and while I know nothing about the finer points of classically trained vocals, it sounded superb.
(5) Opener Tamia was not nearly as cray, but pleasant enough. Did you know she has been married to Grant Hill for 13 years, and she had a hit duet with Fabolous in 2003, and her M.S. symptoms are in remission? Fun facts!