“I didn’t come here to play with y’all tonight,” Grammy-winning soul singer Anthony Hamilton told the sold-out crowd at Stifel Theatre as he danced to a groove provided by his band.
He wasn’t’ lying – and he wasn’t alone. All three of the R&B/Soul veterans who took the stage as part of the Evening of Soul concert Sunday night were on point with their intention to highlight their staying power as artists and the timelessness of their genre.
Vivian Green, known mostly for a crop of melancholy ballads from her debut album “Love Story” in the early 2000s. She used an Evening of Soul to showcase her versatility as a performer. She came out dancing to “Grown Folks Music (Work)” an upbeat tune produced by hip-hop veteran Kwame, who joined Green and two backup singers on stage as her official DJ. She gave fans what they were looking for and flexed her vocal chops at the same time by way of “Emotional Rollercoaster” and “Gotta Leave,” but couldn’t seem to get back to her groove fast enough. She was so eager to bring the party with her performance that she relied on cookout, family reunion and house party classics to get the crowd out of their seats. Kwame played jams by Luther Vandross, Teena Marie, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and Cameo as Green and her two singers proceeded to two-step and spin their way through the medley.
With respect to her artistry, the time would have been better spent pulling selections from Green’s catalog- or at least with Green singing along to the tracks, especially “Square Biz.” But the audience didn’t seem to mind one bit. In fact, when Kwame mixed in her “Get Right Back To My Baby,” they stayed right in the groove.
Heartthrob soul crooner Eric Benet kept the tempo when he started his portion of the show with “Love Don’t Love Me” and followed up with “Sunshine” a song that heavily samples Mtume’s hit “You Me and He” or as Benet put it, he “stole that [expletive.] He quickly slowed it down with “You’re the Only One,” and flexed his unmatched falsetto that has yet to fail him after nearly 25 of generously and effortlessly leaping into his higher register. Benet’s high note game and sultry first tenor tone will never cease to amaze. He told the crowd he was going to “thug it out” and sing Tamia’s portion of the duet that became his first number one hit “Spend My Life.” But his high notes during the bridge of the song just might have given her pause – and then the range envy coming with “Sometimes I Cry.” In what seemed to be the agreed upon finale option, Benet left the crowd bopping to his “Georgie Porgie” Faith Evans duet.
Headliner Anthony Hamilton seemed intent on showcasing his place the continuing greatness in the soul music lineage by working in classics with his own roster of hits. Wearing a burgundy shirt, matching brim and leather pants, he took his time with a taste of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” before easing into “So In Love,” his duet with Jill Scott.
After “Amazing,” came “Sexual Healing,” and “Float On.” Before his breakthrough hit “Comin’ From Where I’m From” was a few drops of “Love and Happiness.” After it, his textured southern soul vocals proved a perfect fit for a verse of “Grandma’s Hands.” And of course, there was a praise break midway though.
There may have been a bit of frustration that Hamilton didn’t highlight more of his own music instead of the old school pairings. But live music lovers wouldn’t have had a single complaint for Hamilton, his band or the new crop of Hamiltones that included full-fledged choreography with their background vocals.
“The Point of it All,” which was peppered with Prince’s “Adore” and an expanded “Charlene” that made for “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” were the extent of the slow jams.
Like Green and Benet before him, Hamilton inspired fans to dance out the door with ‘Cool” laced with “Let’s Do It Again” and “Between The Sheets” and his “Sista Big Bones” finale remixed with The Time’s “Jungle Love.”