Maxwell shared the headlining bill with soul star Jill Scott. There was no opening act, but two main events. In a black shirt, skirt, sequined black tights, and a black heels, Scott kicked things off with hits like “The Way” and “I Love You,” a new track from her forthcoming album The Light of The Sun. “This song’s for the people that have loved someone real hard and f—– it all up,” she described before creeping into the funky mid-tempo cut that apologizes to an ex lover.On Friday night (June 26) true school R&B came to New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. For the latest stop on his Renaissance Hotel-sponsored tour, smooth crooner
Songs like that are the reason Scott’s fans love her as much as they do. She’s a wonderful storyteller; her songs, descriptive and emotional, are simple and relateable, content-wise. When she set up “Cross My Mind,” a mostly spoken-word track about a not-so-good man who was great in the sack, she asked the women in the house, “You guys know what I’m talking about?” They did, screaming their “Yeah, girls” and “Uh huhs.”
Scott’s band—two drummers, a brass section, guitarist, and two keyboardists—was hipper than most, all dressed in black Adidas tracksuits. And only visible as silhouettes were two background dancers, sexily grooving to Scott’s music behind screens. As fast as she can sing about a trifling man, Scott can coo about one that treats her right. In an operatic fashion that would impress Pavarotti, she sang “He Loves Me,” and after showing her range in musical scales, she brushed herself off as if to say, “Yeah, I’m that good.”
The Grammy award-winning veteran has accomplished a lot for a person whose look isn’t that of a typical pop star. She’s not Beyoncé Knowles fit. She’s a curvy, full-figured lady. Her hair doesn’t fall to her shoulders and down her back. In fact, it was blown out in Afro fashion. Scott thanked to crowd for accepting her as she is, saying that music executives would prefer she change. “They want you to be skinny, hungry, and mad all the time,” she said. “I eat.”
Scott closed out strong with a trio a funky jams, starting with “Hate on Me,” then her Go-Go smash “A Long Walk,” and finally the uplifting, yet defiant “Golden.” Her half of the evening was an amazing showing of refined skill, making me wonder why she isn’t even more popular. She’s a complete woman, confident in her own skin and excellent at her chosen craft. There were no apologies and no topic was off limits. As she hinted at earlier, Scott’s a whole ‘lotta woman. And talent, too.
Waiting for Maxwell to hit the stage, I was scared Jill Scott’s impressive opening had blown Maxwell out of the building before he got to his dressing room. That was going to be a rough act to follow.
Find out how he did after the jump.
But in no time my doubts had fallen by the wayside. In a charcoal suit, black sunglasses, and matching wingtips, the 37-year-old coolly slid into his first track, “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” from his neo-soul 1996 debut Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite. Early on, he set the tone as dynamic performer. His dance style was somewhere along the lines of a more masculine Prince with some added 70’s Motown choreography and 90’s hip-hop: He dropped into splits, shuffled a bit, and even Tootsie rolled.
When his band launched into the jazzy “Cold,” the horn section got loose. The three brass men lifted the track about a woman scorned to levels that could’ve popped the Garden’s roof open. After running through his reflective 2001 ballad “Lifetime” and more recent “Bad Habits,” he performed his cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.” This is when panties started raining on stage. As Maxwell asked several intimate questions like, “Can I be your baby’s daddy?” (Of course they replied, “Yes, please!”), women threw their underwear. He, obviously enjoying the lingerie attack, hung them up on the microphone stand and even wrapped one pair around his neck. Maxwell, ladies and gents, is what’s called a “sex symbol.”
During “Stop the World,” a cut about how everything pauses when he makes love to his special lady, Maxwell asked, “Can I get your Facebook account? I’m going to deactivate it. The only one poking you tonight is going to be me.” Romantic? Maybe not. But women in the crowd enjoyed it nonetheless, transforming from their adult selves to squealing adolescents. He made sure the guys who brought dates did not feel threatened. “To all the fellas mean-mugging me,” he started. “I’m getting it warm and percolating for you. I’m the appetizer.” Hopefully the guys served a good entrée afterwards.
Maxwell followed with an amazing set of covers, starting with Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful.” It being the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s untimely death, next was his Thriller classic “Lady in My Life.” The Isley Brothers’ “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time for Love)” seemingly and unceremoniously capped of the night. “Goodnight,” yelped the singer as he speed-walked off the stage with his entire band in tow. It was just a tease though. The audience wanted an encore. And he gave it to them with “Pretty Wings.”
A Brooklyn native, he thanked the crowd for the love. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to perform in front of your people,” he confessed while fighting back tears. He made it look mighty easy, though. Then he glided off into the summer’s night.
Have you ever seen Jill or Maxwell perform live? How were they? Let us know.
(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix)
More from EW.com’s Music Mix: