On paper, Grammy Award winner Maxwell's latest tour with fellow Grammy winner Jill Scott reads like a perfect combination of vocal and musical artistry. In actuality, it's that and more, as the pair's sold-out Los Angeles engagement Saturday (June 5) at the Staples Center proved. In fact, the 20-city arena trek, which kicked off May 21 in Cleveland, could be alternately billed as the bringing back sexy soul tour. Or better yet, bringing back real musicianship tour.
Coming off critically acclaimed acting stints on "Law & Order: SVU," in the film "Why Did I Get Married," and on HBO's "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," a musically re-energized Jill Scott immediately took charge during her opening 75-minute set. Flanked by two dancing females silhouetted in cubes set above the stage, Scott strutted onstage in form-fitting black glittery pants and a long-sleeved jacket, offset by a pair of white-framed glasses. The singer/songwriter launched into a soulfully rockin' version of "Gimme." And it was on from there.
Scott delivered a show packed with old favorites and a sampling of what's in store on the new album she's currently recording. The audience roared its approval as she licked her fingers to emphasize her satiated state on love-making anthem, "Whatever." That led to a host of additional sing-along crowd-pleasers dating back to Scott's 2000 debut album, "Who's Jill Scott - Words and Sounds, Vol. 1": "It's Love," "Way," "Crown Royal," "Golden," "Cross My Mind," "Long Walk" and "Hate on Me." At one point, Scott told a cheering audience as she removed her jacket, "I've got 75 minutes to get all this music in, so I'll do all my changing right here."
Not one to shy away from musically sharing the ups and downs in her life, Scott alluded to her divorce and broken engagement with moving bookend performances of the ballads "Hear My Call" and "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)." Prior to that she bowed the title track of her upcoming album, "The Light of the Sun." The infectious mid-tempo number about love's rollercoaster emotions "will be out sometime in 2010," announced the singer.
Scott's signature mix of R&B, jazz, gospel and hip-hop was accentuated by a tight eight-piece band and a new touch: three sweat suit-clad male background singers whose harmonies and fun dance routines enhanced the proceedings.
Before leaving the stage to a thunderous ovation, Scott -- who noted that "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" will return - thanked the audience for 10 years of their support. "The industry expects hits, but you allowed me to make music. And I appreciate that."
A video backdrop showing a yellow sun being eclipsed by an approaching moon, presaged the arrival of headliner Maxwell. Back in L.A. for the first time since winning two Grammys on behalf of his No. 1 comeback album "BLACKsummers'night," the singer teased the audience with two large-screen video silhouettes of himself before arriving onstage. And when he did -- dressed in a natty silver-gray suit and sporting black sunglasses -- the mostly female crowd erupted in shrieks and screams. And from that point on, he was effortlessly in control for the full 90 minute set.
Beginning with "Sumthin' Sumthin'," Maxwell alternated between playful, sexy and serious as he smoothly segued into such cuts as "Get to Know Ya," "Bad Habits," "Fistful of Tears," "Stop the World," "Fortunate," "Lifetime," "Help Somebody," two covers (Al Green's "Simply Beautiful," the Isley Brothers' "Don't Say Goodnight") and "This Woman's Work," his tribute to "all the moms, grandmothers, daughters and sisters."
Armed with his siren-call tenor, the lithe Maxwell called to mind a sleek panther as he prowled the stage, leaping onto speaker boxes, performing supple splits and undulating suggestively to the delight of both the young and seasoned members of the primarily female audience.
He was backed by a well-oiled nine-piece band (including an organ) that didn't miss a step as it sensed his every move. At one with the music and the audience, the singer was reminiscent of another sexy entertainer, Marvin Gaye. "I'm just helping you out," Maxwell told the males in the audience. "I'm just the appetizer. But if you can't do the main course..." Before launching into his signature hit, "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder),"
he noted, "I can tell now that you all are extra moisturized tonight."
Closing with his comeback hit, "Pretty Wings," Maxwell thanked the audience "for showing that real music is still alive."
The tour arrives in Dallas tonight (June 8), and then makes stops in Houston (June 9), Atlanta (June 12), Miami (June 14) and Philadelphia (June 19) before heading to New York's Madison Square Garden (June 25).