When Maxwell last played Los Angeles in Oct. 2017, it was from the stage of the 17,500-capacity Hollywood Bowl. On Saturday night (Nov.10), the singer/songwriter made another triumphant return to the City of Angels, this time at the 7100-seat Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live for the 31st date on his 50 Intimate Nights Live tour.
“It’s 50 intimate nights all around these theaters that I used to go to,” Maxwell told Billboard earlier this fall. “I cut my teeth on these theaters, and I wanted to come back … just reconnect with people who actually started with me.”
Amid screams and shout-outs of “I love you” reverberating throughout the packed house, Maxwell effortlessly wound his way through a 90-minute set that was part affirmation and part celebration/thanks. The show traversed the singer’s 27-year, Grammy-winning career from his first gold hit, 1996’s “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” to new single “Shame.” The latter, a celebration of black beauty, is the latest from Maxwell’s forthcoming 2019 album Night, the long-awaited final chapter in his BLACKsummers’night trilogy.
Stepping out from inside a giant white ball flanked by his band, Maxwell launched his show with hits from the trilogy’s first chapter, 2009’s BLACKsummers’night, the one-two punch of “Pretty Wings” and “Bad Habits.” Even after Maxwell’s closing encore of 1997’s “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever,” the crowd was still hoping for more, like Maxwell’s usual concert staple “This Woman’s Work” (a riff of which was heard via a brief clip on the video screen backing the singer and the band). Or perhaps a revamped take of his 2013 duet with Alicia Keys, “Fire We Make.”
Some female fans could also be heard wondering why the large video screens on either side of the theater’s stage stayed dark, keeping everyone from getting a better look at Maxwell. Except for one brief moment during “Ascension” when the singer asked for the house lights to be brought up so he could see the audience, a black-suited Maxwell and the band primarily played on a darker-lit stage. No doubt meant to add to the intimacy, the muted lighting made it harder to get a keen view.
Quibbles aside, here are several standout moments from last evening’s show.
Special dedication: Maxwell preceded his performance of “Lifetime” with a nod to the devastating wildfires in California and the ongoing gun epidemic around the nation. “This is dedicated to all the families who have experienced the horrendous acts of not only gun violence but the fires plaguing California right now,” he said. “We send this song to each and every family. We send this song to each and every victim of a crime that truly should not be happening in America right now. We should not be worrying about this shit. This goes out to you in this room with all this love in one place.”
Happy birthday to Embrya: Saluting the 20th anniversary of his sophomore album, Maxwell performed a suite of songs from the 1998 project: “Drowndeep: Hula,” “Matrimony: Maybe You” and “Everwanting: To Want You to Want.” Sony Music’s Certified Classics division reissued the album on Sept. 28 as a two-LP white vinyl package featuring a new 12-page booklet with unseen photos from the original photo shoot and newly remastered audio by Maxwell and his longtime production colleague Stuart Matthewman. Though it didn’t initially receive the critical acclaim of his 1996 debut Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, the platinum-certified Embrya did reach No. 2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 3 on the Billboard 200. “Thank you to anybody who bought that record,” said Maxwell after completing the trio of songs.
Age nothin’ but a number. Five songs into his show, after performances of “Fortunate” (featuring a mini-tribute to Prince with “Do Me”) and “Lake by the Ocean,” Maxwell told the audience, “I’m 45. It’s not like it was.” He was referencing the energy that goes into his sexy and supple dance moves that have become a concert hallmark. “Anybody got some Bengay or Icy Hot in this motherf–ker?” he teased. But Maxwell didn’t let up to the elation of his fans: the lower he got to the stage floor during a skillful dance move, the louder they screamed and chanted “Go, Maxwell!”
Good vibrations — 27 years later. Several times throughout the show, Maxwell thanked his fans — whose celebrity contingent included Toni Braxton and actress Nia Long — for supporting his 27 years-and-counting career. It all came to a head when Maxwell brought the house lights up on fans who were boisterously singing and dancing along to “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” “27 years later and you feel like this?” he declared. “All right then.” In an earlier aside, he’d noted, “This is not auto-tune. This s–t is real.” Coming back onstage for the aforementioned encore, Maxwell delivered his own shout-out of appreciation: “Thank you for supporting R&B.”
Marsha Ambrosius is the opening act on the 50 Intimate Nights tour, which began Sept. 27. She and Maxwell travel next to Kansas City, Mo. (Nov. 14) with additional stops in Nashville (Nov. 18), Minneapolis (Nov. 21), and Chicago (Dec. 2-3) before wrapping in New York City at the Beacon Theatre (Dec. 9).