Anyone who claims that there aren’t any R&B superstars today who are fit to carry the torch of the greats of yesteryear obviously hasn’t heard Maxwell. Or, more accurately, hasn’t experienced Maxwell. Because to really get the full effect of the Brooklyn-bred entertainer, one needs to truly experience him to fully understand the depth of his larger-than-life charisma. The 1,513 mostly female crowd who got to witness and feel the true Maxwell experience on Thursday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall can attest to that.
As Prince’s 1986 seductive classic “Kiss” boomed through house speakers after houselights had faded (one of the many nods to the recently deceased musical genius), Maxwell’s fine multi-piece band took the stage. Settling in and getting things cooking instantly with a jazzy intro, a massive screen at the rear of the stage flashed a variety of images in newsreel fashion. Clips of luminaries like Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harry Belafonte were rapidly interchanged with memorial images of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in truly tasteful fashion
Just then, a wall of screams and raucous applause filled the room as audience members caught sight of the evening’s headliner emerging from behind the drummer’s platform. Nattily clad in tailored grey suit, necktie and shades, Maxwell slowly made his way to his mic stand at center stage and started to soak in the first of many spirited ovations that he’d be graced with for the duration of the night.
Amid a sea of spiraling spotlights and illuminated patterns that danced across theater walls, Maxell himself, now 43, did plenty to light up the room himself. Sounding and looking great, his sweet falsetto tones were rich and full and his slick dance moves did plenty to complement his incredible showmanship.
“Some of you have been with me for twenty years!” he gushed, referring to the two decades since he burst on the music scene with his stellar debut album. “It’s incredible to be a part of your life…I love you so much” he continued. Normally, shtick like this comes across as phony pandering…but with the sheer reverence and earnestness with which he repeatedly uttered similar sentiments throughout the performance, his message rang of truthful clarity.
Delivering a pleasing sampling of material from all of his fine albums, Maxwell did plenty to cement his well-deserved place as one of the greats. The man works at his own pace: while the regularity of his album release schedule is sporadic at best (six albums released over twenty years), his penchant for writing and releasing quality material is unmatched.
Belting highlights like “Noone” and “Badhabits” showed off the unique blend of Soft Jazz/R&B/Pop/Soul he’s magnificently created and honed throughout his career highs. His completely breathtaking rendition of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” (featuring an intro with Kate’s own recorded vocals) squeezed every bit of life, emotion and passion out of the singer and equally, of his fawning audience. The stage screen this time featured a scrolling list of the Orlando Pulse massacre victims along with their ages while Maxwell stood in a lone spotlight and watched the screen in what seemed like utter disbelief mixed with regret. A gut-wrenching yet deeply reverent moment that made more than a few eyes misty across the rows of seats.
Speaking of the ills of racism that seems to be running rampant in society, Maxwell delivered a message of hope and courage as we waxed poetically about the beauty of all of us being gathered under one roof to celebrate our similarities rather than our differences thanks to the power of music. Powerful stuff indeed.
Continuing to sail through his catalog, Maxwell went off into a few forays to improvise, belt some on-the-spot Gospel-tinged stuff, tip his hat again to one of his mentors, Prince, by delivering a few impassioned lines from the Purple One’s fine ballad “Adore” and continue to lavish the crowd with praise and appreciation.
Closing the night with the crowd-pleasing “Ascension” and a gorgeous encore of “Pretty Wings”, Maxwell, happy to share the stage with his amazing band, gave each member the chance to address the crowd, introduce themselves and say hello.
“I’m humbled to be in your presence” Maxwell said as the dynamic 90-minute performance drew to a close. But it was truly the audience, who got to experience this awesome performer at the absolute peak of his career, who were humbled.
“I love you…thank you for making my life what it is” he sang. Thank you, Maxwell, for keeping the torch burning and staying true to your vision, your music and to your undying passion to entertain.
Dance With Me
This Woman’s Work
Lake By The Ocean
Get To Know Ya