Viewing a singer or group live multiple times can cause several changes in how you perceive an artist. For example, my multiple trips to see Alison Krauss and Union Station have been more and more enjoyable, in part because it has became very clear that Alison is an absolute goober, which has endeared her to me so much more. The Indigo Girls have their standards, but other than those, you never know what you’ll get. And Reba McEntire, no matter what scale show she puts on, always seems larger-than-life.
Unfortunately, the equation can work in the opposite direction, which is the case with the Maxwell show that I saw last Saturday. Now, to be honest, the music was great, and Maxwell was in fine form. Despite not having a new CD in the past five years, he pulled in a decent audience, although the back 10 rows or so were pretty empty. In some ways, this is the type of show concertgoers crave, where the artist plays their greatest hits and fan favorites, and doesn’t mess around with new music that no one really knows. Something just didn’t seem right, though.
Usher recently said in Billboard that, while men were welcome at his show, that his concert experience was geared toward the ladies. Maxwell, in many ways, was operating under the same conceit. The grinding on the stage, the suggestive dance moves, the call for panties on the stage…I’m sure there’s a good portion of the audience that enjoys that, but would those folks not come if he played it just a bit straighter?
The guy can sing, and he’s got a perspective on R&B that I really admire. He doesn’t play into all of the clichés that so many male contemporary artists feel are necessary to be successful, and the imagery he evokes is of a much more realistic view of life, love and heartache. So why does he feel the need to “dumb it down” on stage? I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, but it really distracted from the show for me.
One cool thing that came out of the show was to hear a couple of tracks from his long-delayed triple CD “Black Summers’ Night“. “Pretty
WordsWings” seemed a bit disjointed to me, but I liked the overall vibe. “Bad Habits”, on the other hand, felt fully formed, and a worthy successor to some of Maxwell’s funkier jams from the past 10 years. He claims the record is finally coming out in early 2009, but we’ve heard this before. Let’s hope that this tour is a good reminder that it may actually happen, because I’m intrigued to hear just what he’ll do with three CDs to fill.