The testimony: I was wary of seeing R. Kelly’s “Ladies Make Some Noise” tour Thursday night (See Photo Gallery) because I just wasn’t sure how I’d feel about seeing him in freak-mode after he was cleared of child porn charges this year. About midway through the 2-hour show he started to testify. He said he was told not to talk about “the case” but he felt need to because this is first tour since his trial and, well, he has been through his own personal hell. This was the perfect segue into his performance of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which turned the Fox Theatre into an impromptu revival meeting.
Exhibit A: The Fox seemed like a strange venue for the notoriously elaborate performer, but it was the perfect backdrop for Kelly’s minimalist staging. The small band, three backup singers and few dancers helped create one big sexy club vibe. Set changes were little more than some stage props, rug swaps and a few outfit changes. Ultimately he was able to showcase his incredibly strong singing prowess and flirtatious personality. (At one point, we saw a pink G-string fly on the stage, but after Kellz took a moment to pretend to remove his undies and throw them in the audience, I’m pretty confident it was an act – though next time he needs something sexier than tighty-whities.
Exhibit B: As soon as he hit the stage in jeans, a T-shirt, winter white blazer and red scarf, his magnetism was unnerving. It goes without saying that only fans would pay to see him perform. But gone were the cornrows and sagging jeans. Whether in a tuxedo with red bow-tie (during his homage to Sam Cooke) or vest and hoodie (during a ski lodge scene), we saw a clean-cut, charming man with understated swag and a playful sense of humor.
Exhibit C: “I can make a song out of anything!” Kellz said at one point. We know. And he didn’t need exaggerated gyrations to do it. In order to get through his prolific song-writing history, he rarely sang a full song but that was not an issue. He started strong with a melody of high-energy club hits. He took us from hits like “I’m a Flirt,” “Baby” and “Fiesta” to more recent tracks like “Rock Star” and “Number One” (Top 10 duet with Atlanta singer Keri Hilson). But the strongest response – the audience was fluent enough to sing the songs themselves – came when he took us back to when “Down Low” just meant a forbidden affair and Ron Isley aka Mr. Biggs wasn’t in jail. Think “Contagious,” “It Seems Like You’re Ready,” “My Body’s Callin’” … you get the picture.
Exhibit D: Unfortunately, this leads us to the lowlight. During his sexy rendition of “12 Play” some classless members of the crowd got into an altercation in the orchestra seats. We saw a cup do an aerial at another person and R. Kelly stopped the show. When security didn’t respond properly, Kelly reminded them we had a show to do and they are supposed to kick such characters out of the building. Unfortunately, said classless members were enraged by this idea and fought security vigorously up the aisle as they were escorted out.
Rebuttal: Once we got back on track, he was gracious enough to finish the song. Then he took us to the highlight – a video tribute to Michael Jackson, who worked with R. Kelly on studio projects. It included personal video clips of MJ in the backseat of a car. He was listening to Kelly’s “Ignition Remix” and let’s just say it seemed more like MJ was in a club than a car.
Closing argument: After a moving tribute to Sam Cooke, R. Kelly closed it down with his immensely popular “2 step” dance hits including “Step in the Name of Love” and “Happy People.” Punctuated by a red confetti shower, everybody took it side-to-side, back to front and even tried to spin it around with or without a partner.
The verdict: R. Kelly is one of the most powerful vocalists – and entertainers – in R&B. Case closed.
Catch him at the Fox Theatre Friday at 8p. Tickets still available ($47-$77).