By Brad Wete
Updated June 23, 2010 at 07:52 PM EDT

Image Credit: Ernest EstimeLast night at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, R&B underdog Ryan Leslie ran through an hour’s worth of fan-favorites and even a few new cuts from his forthcoming third album, Les is More. The venue, small and intimate, was perfect for the singer/producer. Leslie’s first two albums, both released in 2009, were commercial busts. But I couldn’t tell last night. Each fan in the almost-filled ballroom knew every word of his cuts.

Strolling on to the stage in a black leather vest, a denim shirt, black jeans, and matching shades, the first song his biker-gloved hands gripped the microphone for was “Glory.” It’s a new track that the rest of the world will hear on his next album. On it the 31-year-old raps about how critics said he’d never amount to much as a solo artist and shouts out his girlfriend, Australian model Nicole Trunfio, for being on the cover for her country’s Vogue Magazine last February. Though he’s got vixen under his arm, he’s not considered to be eye candy to the ladies. Leslie’s looks don’t exactly compete with that of his R&B peers Trey Songz or Usher. And that means plenty in a genre where sex sells. When he eventually dropped the jacket and shirt to reveal his black tank top, few women cheered. One a few rows ahead of me wondered out loud, “Why did this frail man take off his shirt?”

What he lacks in sex appeal, he makes up for in talent, stage presence, and skill. Along with his band, which included a keyboardist, drummer, two guitarists, and three male backup singers—all in black, Leslie ripped through R&B hits like “Diamond Girl,” “Something That I Like,” frequently jumping on his synthesized keyboard for solos. And on “Valentine” he used a talk-box to distort his voice and transitioned to a cover of Zapp and Roger’s “I Want to Be Your Man.”

Along with his music came an elaborate light setup. As he sang, streams of greens, purples, and whites sprayed him with their glow to the beat of his percussion. Expectedly, the biggest reaction from the crowd came when the drums for “Addiction” dropped, quickly earning cheers before he even began to croon. He followed that with “You’re Not My Girl.” Another track he debuted was “Maybachs and Diamonds,” a smooth cut he made a year ago for rapper Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap album. It didn’t make Ross’ cut, but likely will make Ryan’s.

Leslie recently parted ways with record label Motown Universal. Not discouraged by the task of finding a new home to release his next album or wary his days as a major label artist are numbered, he delivered a rousing speech before closing the show. “If you’ve got a dream,” he started. “And you believe in that dream, anything is possible.” The crowd cheered and rooted their approval. If they have anything to do with it, he’ll be living out his for a long time.

Have you ever seen Ryan Leslie perform? Are you a fan of his music? Let us know.

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