AUGUSTA, Ga.—It was no ordinary night in Augusta, Ga.
In fact, an early evening torrential downpour coupled with violent lightening strikes and thunderbooms, nearly threatened the ensuing tour date of the self-proclaimed “Pied Piper of Soul,” namely, Robert Sylvester Kelly, known worldwide as R. Kelly.
Thankfully, sunshine and blue skies pervaded and the show began as planned-supported by a throng of
R. Kelly fans ready to witness the Grammy-Award winning superstar who has also had his share of controversy during a stormy, success-laden 22-year career.
It should also be noted that the bulk of the estimated 5,000 attendees were of the female gender. So it’s quite obvious who Kelly’s fan base represents.
Speaking of lovely ladies, the 2011 Love Letter Tour was opened by a couple of fine young singers who worked hard to warm-up the stage for the nouveau R & B legend. Both Marsha Ambrosius and Keisha Cole performed well, but it was obvious both ladies lacked the onstage savvy that comes with time and experience. Both are good vocalists, but struggled when trying to claim the audience without resorting to unnecessary commentary (Ambrosius used some unprovoked expletives while Cole repeatedly scolded sound engineers for unacceptable sound issues).
“With all his hits, he really doesn’t require anyone to open for him,” she said. Based on almost frequent unresponsive audience participation during opening acts, it was clearly apparent most concertgoers on this evening were waiting for the top bill.
Then the lights finally faded to black and R. Kelly opened with a black and white movie reel depicting Kelly in a Humphrey Bogart role similar to the 1942 film, “Casablanca.” Three overhead digital video screens clearly projected onstage-action all night long, and engaged the audience with a variety of different angles.
Kelly kicked off the show with a powerful energetic burst using his “Fiesta” hit tune as a backdrop, while colorful confetti flowed from the rafters. Festive and Fun! A multi-colored light show covered the entire James Brown Arena and set the stage for the evening as Kelly put on a show that’ll remain memorable to many locals for years to come, said longtime R Kelly fan, Danielle Mackie.
“The man is a performer. No matter where you see him he really gives you your money’s worth” she added.
Since starting his career in ’89 with “Public Announcement,” Kelly has consistently produced a string of hits that have earned him stellar honors like Grammys, American Music Awards, NAACP and BET Awards.
His traveling stage production is obviously a costly one—comparable to stage designs seen on TV network music awards shows. A horseshoe-like partial stage served as a barrier for a couple hundred fortunate fans who were provided close-up stage view. Clair Brothers of Philadelphia were reportedly hired to do the tour while providing a Broadway-like feel to the arena. It certainly fit, for the man who recorded the hit song “Happy People.”
At one point in the show, the star entered a sea of audience members. Reminiscent of a young Muhammad Ali during his heyday—Kelly then stood above his fans and confidently looked around, obviously unfazed, unafraid and thrilled to the max. Fans of the late Roger Troutman may also recall the night when the ZAPP leader rode the shoulders of a bodyguard while playing his guitar throughout the crowded main floor of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena—in the mid-1980s.
The Chicago-born, Baptist-reared crooner is a testament to his deceased hometown forefathers,
Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway. Marvin Gaye was probably also looking down with pride and joy, as well. Fitting, since June was national Black Music Month.
Kelly attempted to perform most of his hits including “Bump & Grind,” “My Jeep,” “I’m a Flirt,” “Hey Mr. DJ,” “Step in the Name of Love,” “When a Woman’s Fed-Up,” “Ignition” and more. He did a good job of fulfilling his hit-list except for not performing “When A Woman Loves” from his latest CD and “I Believe I Can Fly.” Beyond that, he and his tight-knit rocking band were on-point, all night. The band was led by Kelly’ longtime MD (music director) guitarist Donnie Lyles.
Throughout the show, most lyrics were recited by the audience especially when the mike was pointed in their direction. And when Kelly asked the audience if they wanted him to remain “old school,” he drew massive audience affirmation. He also sang acapella, proving that he’s a real singer who doesn’t rely on pre-recorded tracks.
Kelly’s fan base is an interesting mix of ages. There were several groups of fans featuring mothers and fathers hanging out with their 20- and 30-something-year-old daughters. The new King of Soul appeals to all types, including the one-time homeboy thugs of the 1990s—many who have now grown into mature and responsible adults.
Oh yea, this was clearly an unforgettable night with thanks due to a 43-year-old genius-musician named R. Kelly.