R. Kelly's Single Ladies Tour: "Realer Than Swag" in Miami, October 21

R. Kelly

Single Ladies Tour

James L. Knight Center, Miami

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Better Than: A night at the strip club.

From The-Dream to Trey Songz, an entire generation of R&B stars have found fame retracing R. Kelly's footsteps. Bu it's doubtful that any of his acolytes could pull off a show as virtuosic, multi-faceted and thoroughly entertaining as last night's Single Ladies tour stop at James L. Knight Center.

See also:

-Interview: R. Kelly on Single Ladies, Black Panties, and the Return of Trapped in the Closet

-R. Kelly Announces Single Ladies U.S. Tour: Miami, New York, 20 Other Cities

-R. Kelly Says The Notebook Caused His Divorce, Allegedly Frequents Movie Theaters Alone

Kelly allowed few dull moments in a two-hour set that packed in something like 70 songs, and he sounded flawless scoring some of the show's biggest highlights with a cappella versions of songs like "Real Talk." Hell, he even sang opera--convincingly, too. "Opera is what allows my voice to be able to sing for y'all ass for two hours on this stage," he said, shouting out his vocal coach.

Following support from opener Tamia, Kelly emerged atop a stairwell at the center of an elaborate, gleaming white, cocktail bar-themed set. A pair of suited bartenders manned actual bars on either side of the stage, while groups of women idled on stools. Wearing a suit so white it left him glowing (literally--it was nearly impossible to take a photo from the crowd that didn't leave Kelly looking like a ghostly blur), he descended the stairs to the sounds of his classic come-on tune, "Your Body's Calling Me."

He hardly touched his latest efforts, the suave throwback soul albums Love Letter and Write Me Back, dipping more deeply into his 12 Play ("Bump N Grind," "It Seems Like You're Ready") and TP2 ("Fiesta," "Feelin on Yo Booty") eras. Kelly took a number of breaks from singing during his set but these reprieves actually advanced the show's momentum, if anything. He reclined in a throne while judging entrants in what he described as a "worldwide slow windin' contest," and encouraged audience participation (quipping "I wanna give you more than your money's worth, is that alright?") with a segment he dubbed "Kells Karaoke."

In what was certainly the evening's strangest moment, stagehands dressed as doctors in lab coats brought out a cage into which Kells eventually plied a female crowd member--but not before getting her to sign some sort of release form onstage. What followed was bizarre theater of the mind that saw her chained to the cage, which began to rock wildly after Kelly's entrance.

Kelly wisely saved his his most uplifting material for last, turning "I Wish," one of the more heartfelt songs in his catalog ("This is realer than swag," he offered) into a sermon-like monologue on loss and hope, and peaking vocally with a powerful rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly." When it appeared that he was closing with Love Letter's "When a Woman Loves," Kelly suggested that the already parting crowd needed "better walk out music." "Step In The Name of Love" was just that, prompting a healthy percentage of early departners to dance their way out of the venue.

You can fault Robert Kelly for a lot of things, but his ability to entertain is not one of them.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Mostly single women, of course--and of just about every age, too.

From the Crowd: "I wanna be in that cage!"

Personal Bias: Can't say for sure, but it's possible I was the only person who arrived and left this show on foot.

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