Chicago Drive-In

Maxwell live!

| October 14, 2009 | 0 Comments

United Center, Chicago
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Maxwell

R&B singers have so many options, it’s at once understandable and frustrating how they get locked into one category and spend a lifetime there. Maxwell, whose Blacksummers’night (Columbia), has some comparing him to Marvin Gaye, used Thursday’s show to push back at the shrinking boundaries.

For the first set of his nearly capacity United Center gig, the Brooklynite fit neatly into form, swankly attired in a fitted, black suit with his image supersized on each flank in black and white, a clear reference to classic soul singers from Nat King Cole through Otis Redding and Gaye. Maxwell welcomed his fans into the fold with older hits (“Dancewitme,” “Sumthin’ Sumthin'”), but as he grew more comfortable he let on to where the show was going by winking while adlibbing about “panties” during “Bad Habits.”

As his new material found its way into the set, the backdrop changed from a stylized night-club revue to bursts of color. He changed hats, so to speak, as an ominous, Isaac Hayes-worthy bassline underpinned him while repeating, “You are all there is and then some.” The following Al Green homage via “Simply Beautiful” subtly rearranged his loverman motif and he then blew the doors off (and sent his mostly female audience swooning) by bellowing, “I don’t care what time of the month it is!”

And so we met Bawdy Maxwell. This version of the crooner isn’t a neo-Sisqo/”let’s set this MTV spring-break off!,” but a seductive, gentlemanly 36-year-old who still carries around some freaky habits. The persona was disguised during the second set, when Maxwell emerged from one of the stage’s many trap-doors to the Soulquarian-friendly “Gravity,” revamped here to be a space-age club jam. He gently built momentum, and nearly lost control of the United Center during the angry, world-consciousness anthem “Help Somebody” and a somewhat out-of-place UNICEF-esque hunger montage. Then, the balloon finally burst when he hit the crescendo in “Cold”: “She’s on top and she means business!”

Unfortunately, shifting personalities carries with it the burden of having to do so well, and the last half hour barely managed to stay upright. Things began brightly with he and guitarist Hod David sat on separate stage extensions to quietly unfold “Playing Possum,” which was followed by a heated version of the ballad “This Woman’s Work.” His falsetto was impressive, but he fell out of character to mention the trouble in Afghanistan. “‘Til The Cops Come Knockin'” suffered from the unimaginative accompaniment of flashing police lights, and then he gave Bawdy Maxwell an inordinate amount of time setting up a joke that rivaled Clarence Carter’s notorious “Making Love” intro to “Dark End Of The Street.”

If he could take eight years off between albums, certainly he can space his personalities out more. He’ll be a force if he does.

— Steve Forstneger

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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