Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Siempre que, Dondequiera, Cualquier

About seven years ago, my mother and I trotted to the Fox Theater in Detroit to see Maxwell in concert for the first time.

It was his tour to promote his recently released third studio album Now. Opening for him was an up-and-coming New York vocalist named Alicia Keys with minimal stage presence and a horrible, spastic 4-foot-11 hypeman in an orange jumpsuit. Mama and I were happy enough to see her complete her set.

At that point in my life, I was almost exclusively bumping hip-hop and didn't particularly care about singers. I’m a child of old-school soul and most contemporary R&B just bores me – in fact, if your name isn’t D'Angelo, Anthony Hamilton or Raphael Saadiq, there’s a good chance I haven’t checked for your R&B album in the past decade.

But something was different about Maxwell; Now is on the top of a very short list of contemporary R&B albums I can stick in and play from front to back. It is, quite simply, an amazing record.

But Now, as well as Urban Hang Suite and Embrya, have nothing on his live show. Now I’m straighter than a guitar string, but when he started singing “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever,” he almost got a face full of my dirty boxers.

Sunday night was a throwback to that show: Back to the Fox, with that same wonderful young lady by my side. We were delighted to see that, after a good seven damn years out of the spotlight, homeboy still got it.

Maxwell’s stage presence remains stellar, with a full band and backup singers that compliment him famously without ever drowning him out. He was prone to the occasional gratuitous gyration or three, but they didn’t take away from the performance.

As I sat there and listened to the collective soaking of panties all around me, I wondered how many R&B artists are still kicking who can evoke such a reaction from young and old alike. Like, no one over the age of 25 gives a shit about Ne-Yo; while Ronald Isley – whom I actually appreciate more than Maxwell – has an age demographic of about 55.

That show evoked strong reactions from a very diverse age group of women; evident in the fact that my mother was hopping out her seat screaming and hollering along with women my age.

Maxwell apparently has a three-part album in the works called Black Summer’s Night, to be released over the course of three years. During the show he performed a couple new joints, including “Pretty Wings,” which has only marginally sated the fans on the internet who’ve only heard half of the song.

Yet he never gave any of us what were collectively anticipating: a release date.

He made a great point between songs: “I don’t even have an album out, and y’all coming out to see me like this. I don’t know what to say.” He knows damn well what to say: when a truly talented artist puts out some sheer heat and then goes hermetic for fucking years, they steadily build anticipation that results in fans coming out in droves to get a taste when they finally do reemerge.

Either Maxwell is fucking with us, or he’s a genius, and his next album is gonna go diamond. I think D’Angelo could revive his career the exact same way if he cleaned his life up and decided to go back on tour.

When the show ended and we sauntered back to my truck, I realized something: As I grow older and continue an ascent into so-called “manhood” that requires incrementally less maternal guidance, Maxwell will always be our thing. From the moment I put “This Woman’s Work” on a CD for her while in college, mama and I have shared in our love of his music and subsequent frustration in his failure to put out another album. (“What’s up with Maxwell?? Damn!” is a frequent refrain of ours).

Where our paths diverge is in my speculation of his sexuality. But since that’s her second man, I suppose the idea that he might be gay is difficult for her to accept. Frankly, dude could be into spooning warthogs for all I care; as long as Black is dope, whenever the hell he decides to drop it, that’s all that matters to me.

1 comment:

Carla Ino said...

I have heard so many wonderful things about this tour. Your recollection of it, amazing. And makes me all the more pissed that he isn't bringin' his dreamy tail to Florida. I've never seen him live. *sigh*