Ciara's First Tour in Six Years Is a 'Body Party' to Be Reckoned With: Live Review
Ciara has always been slightly outside the pop mainstream -- an R&B princess who never ascended the throne. But with six albums under her (eternally stylish) belt, there's no doubt that CiCi's been working. The proof was in the crowd at Tuesday's show in New York (May 5), the second stop on her Jackie tour.
Young, old, gay, straight -- every possible demographic was represented in the full house at Best Buy Theater, from the people who were 1, 2 stepping to a burned CD in 2005 to the ones who had maybe gotten a little scandalous to "Body Party" at their first high school dance. Make a crowd wait six years for your live show (her last American headlining dates were alongside Jay Z in 2009), and you can almost guarantee enthusiasm. The crowd, primed for the performance by the venue's limited edition "Turn it Up" cocktails ($12), started chanting "Ci-a-ra!" after waiting for just 10 minutes.
She kicked off her set with a nod to both her ATL roots and contemporary hip-hop with a few Migos-flow laden #bars over "Jackie (B.M.F.)," smoothly transitioning into a perplexing but ultimately endearing "All Day"/"Oh" mashup (she's hip, ok?). From that point on, though, contemporary hip-hop took a backseat as the set played to CiCi's strengths.
First things first: Ciara knows how to put on a show. After 12 years in the business (a number she mentioned during the show with just a hint of real disbelief), she's fully capable of giving the audience what they want and will bend over backwards (sometimes literally) to do so. Her Jackie tour is a theater-sized set-up with arena ambitions: a full band that sounded consistently stellar, three backup singers, two back-up dancers, and full choreography. The only time you missed the JumboTron was when Ciara was dropping it low (which, to no one's surprise, happened fairly frequently) -- otherwise, the stage felt like a good fit.
No Ciara song has ever been about her voice, breathy and eternally competent as it is. Rather, they're about the words she says in that voice, and what she's doing while she says them. Her best songs are on the just-barely-proper-side of scandalous, brought over to an R-rating by her impossibly swiveling hips. Those songs -- which arguably peaked with Mike WiLL Made-It's "Body Party" -- are also best suited to her voice, which eternally sounds like she's straining, ever so slightly, to do...something (winks, nudges etc).
The same held true live -- vocally, "Promise" and "Body Party" were the night's highlights, upping the ante with ad-libs that were about as close to deep as Ciara ever gets. Though often accused of hollowness, it mostly seems like the singer's been at this so long that even her stage banter sounds like a studio voiceover: "There's no way I could lie to you," she told the adoring crowd, "because the love you give is so true." She's never going to be a soul-searcher, and that's ok -- it's possible put on a good performance without being musically transcendent, it just takes a lot more work.
Work she did -- moonwalking across the stage to "Billie Jean," pulling out all the stops for an on-stage lapdance (she literally pulled the guy's glasses off and wore them, like some teen movie nerd's fantasy), even leading her band in a few James Brown-style hits. Her cover and mashup choices might have looked corny on another singer, but how is it possible to resist Ciara swinging her imaginary lasso to a combination of "Ride" and Ginuwine's "Pony"?
Her stage presence is humble and sweet, every sultry stare eventually crumbling into a smile. She sang back-up to her back-ups as they showed off their vocal prowess and stepped aside while her dancers improvised, all with the kind of genuine encouragement that only a mom could give (her speech about her "little juicy man" -- Baby Future -- was undoubtedly the evening's emotional peak). "Go on baby, show 'em what you got," C eventually said to every single person on stage.
At least onstage, Ciara has little to prove. A couple more studio turns with Mike WiLL and a full embrace of her female Barry White potential? She might just have a shot at the crown.