Fantasia took her time getting to the stage for her first headlining arena tour in St. Louis, but the performance was worth the wait. With a packed house waiting patiently, it was nearly 10:30 when her performance commenced for a show that began at 7:30 on the dot. And yet with energy, an organic connection with fans through faith and a powerhouse voice she managed to keep the entire crowd engaged and attentive for her whole set. And made it off stage before the venue was forced to turn any lights on or mics off Sunday night at Chaifetz Arena after delivering an hour-long show that didn’t feel particularly rushed or abbreviated.
And through a newcomer and two R&B veterans, “The Sketchbook” Tour showcased the variety within the genre.
Singer The Bonfyre, an R&B newcomer who received industry buzz thanks to a co-sign and collaboration with Raphael Saddiq was up first.
The audience seemed indifferent to her performance of “All About You.” But after she called them out on their lack of engagement, she formed a connection for the rest of her brief set.
“I know y’all came to see Fantasia, Robin Thicke and Tank,” The Bonfyre told the crowd. “But I’m gonna need for y’all to [expletive] with me for 15 minutes first.”
The audience appreciated the honesty – and followed suit with her request as she covered Mary J. Blige’s “My Life,” and “You Say” before closing with her radio hit “Automatic.”
Tank brought his “sex music” to the stage once again this year in St. Louis after a recent headlining performance at The Pageant – and the crowd at Chaifetz seemed all too happy to have him back.
The lyrical content of much of his later music, particularly “Sex, Love & Pain II” and “Savage” is for mature audiences only. He balances the raunchy lyrics frontloaded with and sexually overt nature of his stage presence with solid musicianship.
As usual Tank got shirtless as a show marker to let fans know that his set was half over. But paired with his sex appeal is a charm and sense of humor that keep the show from being vulgar, despite the X-Rated nature of the lyrics of the songs in his set list that included “[expletive] With Me,” “Savage,” “Dirty” and “When We.”
He reserved the tender moments of the show for his final selections. The audience was given a taste of the genuine musician that is just beyond the sexy as he sang a brief snippet of Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew” as family photos looped on a screen behind him before sitting down at the piano for a cover of Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and his biggest hit “Please Don’t Go.”
Robin Thicke gave Fantasia a run for her money for best in show as he warmed the stage for her. It’s been a decade since he hit a St. Louis stage – ironically it was with fellow “American Idol” alum Jennifer Hudson.
And he came back to town playing no games with a perfectly executed set that started off with “Morning Sun” and continued with “Side Step.”
With a baby grand piano on stage and a white tuxedo jacket, Thicke served up a set that seemed styled after the Rat Pack, but the music was clearly inspired by classic R&B. He got fans grooving early on with his laidback midtempo jam “Lost Without You,” and then transitioned into “Dreamworld” before jumping from behind the piano – and then on top of the piano – for his upbeat “Magic.”
He slowed things back down with the heavily Marvin Gaye influenced “Love After War.”
The pitch perfect pristine vocals and pure falsetto that earned his endorsement from R&B lovers was in full effect as he sang his latest single “When You Love Somebody.”
Thicke opened up about his most amazing experience as a singer – performing “Sweetest Love” at the wedding of his childhood hero Michael Jordan, and seeing Jordan sing along to the words as he danced with his bride. HE also explained his absence from the scene.
“I’ve been going through some things – I got divorced, I got sued, my dad died, my manager died and my house burned down,” Thicke said before discussing the healing power of love as an introduction to his song “That’s What Love Can Do.”
He closed out the show by hopping back on top of the piano – and encouraging fans to get out of their seats and dance with him for his biggest hit “Blurred Lines.”
A performer of a lesser caliber would have been upstaged by Thicke, but Fantasia was true to form as a vocal powerhouse with stage energy to be reckoned with.
“I didn’t come here to be cute,” she said early into her set that kicked off with “Heaven.” In the song, she professes to have the energy of James Brown – and uses The Sketchbook Tour performance to prove it true. Her all-girl band and crop of powerhouse background singers gave a show that would have easily earned a nod of approval from The Godfather of Soul.
For the sake of time, she powered through the first portion of the show that included excerpts and performances of “Without Me,” “Free Yourself” and “Hood Boy.”
“Can I get ratchet real quick,” Fantasia said before dancing along to City Girls’ hit “Act Up.”
The tour is named after her latest album, but she pulled from the entire catalog of studio albums she’s released since being crowned winner of the third season of “American Idol” nearly 15 years ago.
“Free Yourself,” Bittersweet,” I’m Doing Me,” “No Time For It” were among them.
Fantasia also paid tribute to the late Aretha Franklin with a performance of “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” that segued into “Collard Greens and Cornbread.”
But, as usual, what the audiences felt the most was the spiritual element she always incorporates into each show.
Sunday night, St. Louis fans received an extra helping of church through her mash up of LaShun Pace’s “I Know I Been Changed,” and Donnie McClurkin’s “Stand.”
She thanked God for his grace – and gave Him all the glory in a touching moment of spiritual transparency before ending the show with “Lose To Win.”