Wamu Theater at Madison Square Garden
Confident, stylish and imbued with the kind of seasoned class that singers twice her age strive for, Chrisette Michele was probably the biggest surprise of the evening for many of the audience who had never seen her perform live. With the down turn in the music business and the advent of 360 record deals, record labels are being forced to sign artists who can earn them money the old fashioned way, by staying out on the road and performing, rather than releasing videos and dating celebrities. Thus an artist such as Chrisette Michele finds herself with a number one album, whereas five years previous she would have struggled to get a look in. What Michele brings to the table is a style steeped in jazz tradition and a powerful, rich smokey voice that demands attention. Though her set was short she impressed with songs from both her albums and in particular with her showmanship and comedic, Marlena Shaw like onstage banter. “Blame It On Me”, the retro styled ballad from her latest “Epiphany” set allowed her to showcase the full power of her pipes, whilst, the soul stomper “What You Do” saw her, in comic fashion displaying her jazz scatting skills. “If I Had My Way”, from her debut album, transformed into a candlelight jazz ballad, kept the comedic asides flowing as she did impersonations of John Legend, Erykah Badu and Anita Baker. The set was brief but the impression made was huge.
Musiq Soulchild can be relied up to serve up consistently strong soulful albums. He’s an intelligent but often underrated tunesmith who has been around now for over a decade which puts this young artist, by today’s standards, in the veteran category. However, if he wants to translate his writing consistency into an overall more rounded career immediate and dramatic changes need to be made with his live show.
Let’s start with the bad news first. There may be some people who will read this and accuse me of being sexist but sex has nothing to do with what I’m about to say. Musiq’s all female band, Anna Mae, just weren’t that tight. Sure they could could hold a tune down but frankly, I’ve seen far tighter wedding bands. Secondly the mix was horrible. At times Musiq’s background singer was louder than him (and also, earlier in the performance, she was noticeably off-key) and lastly I’m of the belief that a band should look like they want to be on stage and respect the opportunity. Casually dressed in white, the assortment of peddle pushers, sneakers and jackets had them looking like they were about to raise up the BBQ sauce at a cook-out rather than raise the roof at Madison Square Garden.
Okay now for the good news. Despite the general disorganization of the show and song arrangements, the fact that Musiq has had a long career littered with numerous hits and he himself comes over as an energetic, soulful, likable person with an attention grabbing Prince like falsetto which he brings out of the closet when he feels the enthusiasm waning, kept things bubbling along. Hits such as “Teachme”, “Halfcrazy”, “Girl Next Door”, “Dontchange”, “If U Leave” (performed with his background singer), “Love” and “So Beautiful” ensured his show would never fall completely flat. The encore songs, “Just Friends (Sunny) and “B.U.D.D.Y.” took on an anthemic hue with the audience up on it’s feet singing along.
The inadequacies on Musiq’s show couldn’t have been more noticeable when the headliner Anthony Hamilton took to the stage. Sporting a cane, a black suit with white stylish hat, were it not for his pronounced limp and the nearby crutch, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the get up was all part of a southern preacher/pimp look. However, having torn his left ACL a few weeks earlier in LA, it became evident that Hamilton would be relying on his voice, his faith and a few pain killers to get him through the performance. From the opening bars of busy, gritty upbeat, “Fallin’ In Love”, it was obvious that Hamilton’s polished, tightly woven band, was akin to an air-conditioned ride in a Rolls Royce as grooves were laid down with effortless precision. Hamilton cast orthopedic encumbrances aside and allowed the spirit to take over as he dipped into his now well worn soul drenched songbook for “Comin’ From Where I’m From”, “The Point Of It All” and the old school revue like “I Can’t Let Go” that had the audience singing along word for word. At times you could have been excused for thinking it was Sunday morning instead of Thursday night. The introduction from “Fat Albert” made way for “Sister Big Bones” which saw many of the appropriately named heavier set women from the audience joining Hamilton on stage for a dance. A comic affair, given his immobile state that sometimes had him appearing like a randy old uncle at Christmas party as he charged around the stage with his crutch while the attendant ladies shook what their mamas gave ‘em.
Adding some balance to all these antics was the somber MOR ballad, “Her Heart”. “Prayin’ For You” /”Superman” was an unexpected highlight. The bluegrass like intro led to an all out gospel throw-down with Hamilton getting a case of the Holy Ghost charging or rather hopping off into the audience with a retinue of assistants following in his wake with crutch in tow. The band, meanwhile proceed to serve up a scorching hot churchly grooves as Musiq Soulchild joined Hamilton on stage helping him bring the Holy Roller coaster back to bay.
The crowd favorite, “Charlene” simmered things down before “Cool” had one and all back up on their feet, singing in unison. A awesome effort from one of modern day soul music’s true standard bearers.