Kelly brings it home, with feeling

Posted: Tuesday – October 13, 2009

Like Marvin Gaye and Al Green, the legendary lovermen whose songs set the mood before he took the stage, R. Kelly has a potent sway over women. He inspires them to do all kinds of things, from scribbling their phone numbers on pieces of paper tossed onstage, to dabbing his sweaty brow, to hurling their pink panties in his direction. And that’s just the stuff we can mention in a family newspaper.

When the R&B superstar took the stage at the Citi Wang Theatre Friday night, playing to a glaringly small crowd that filled maybe a third of the 3,600 seats, it was clear this was an evening for the fairer sex. Hence his new tour’s title: “Ladies Make Some Noise.’’

And they certainly did during the uneven but wildly enjoyable show that momentarily transcended all the scandals that have kept R. Kelly in the public eye more than his music has in recent years.

True to his theatrics, he strutted onstage with a hype man amid two roped-off sections of female fans and launched into a mashup of hits, including Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights’’ and Snoop Dogg’s “That’s That.’’

Kelly acted shocked to tell the crowd he’s been at this for 20 years, but he’s well aware of his legacy. “Have you ever made love to my music? Make some noise,’’ he crooned in all earnestness. (Survey says: A lot of people at the Wang had.)

When Kelly wasn’t in slow-jam mode with his band and backup singers, he tended to breeze through his songs in a start-stop sequence that diluted their original glory. Still, the parade of hits was impressive: “Bump ’n’ Grind,’’ “Ignition,’’ “I’m a Flirt,’’ “12 Play,’’ and current single “Number One.’’

But Kelly essentially upended his performance down the stretch, suddenly making the earlier portions feel hurried and inconsequential. Until then, he had been establishing an intimate groove, but the last few songs found a focus and clarity that shot the entire concert to another, and exhilarating, level.

After a touching video homage to his mentor, Michael Jackson (including private footage of the late icon dancing to “Ignition’’), Kelly returned in a charcoal suit and red suspenders. Unleashing his inner soul singer, Kelly scored with a pair of Sam Cooke hits (“Bring It on Home to Me,’’ “A Change Is Gonna Come’’). They were the perfect setup to two of Kelly’s own R&B classics, “Step in the Name of Love’’ and “Happy People.’’

By the time the final spray of confetti wafted down, the ladies had held up their end of the bargain. They had spent an hour and a half making some noise for a man who, in typical fashion, had just loved them and left them.


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