Throughout his 20-year R&B career, Brooklyn-born groove purveyor Maxwell has never been accused of being a prude. So it was only courteous that, before easing into new track “Hostage” during Wednesday night’s performance at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the singer issued a crowd-wide alert.
“This here? This is the aphrodisiac moment—but it comes with a warning,” he said. “Nine months from tonight, some of y’all out there might have a situation.”
And so went Buffalo’s sultry, soulful and possibly reproductive evening with Maxwell, who delivered a funk-filled and free-flowing stroll through two decades of material for an enthusiastic crowd in the city’s Theatre District.
Now touring on his “blackSUMMERS’night” album—released last week and the second offering in his “BLACKsummers’night” trilogy, launched in 2009—the Grammy-winning neo-soul survivor has been heralded throughout his career for not producing singles as much as a mood.
His 1996 debut, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” was the first step in establishing this temperament, a rotating vibe to elicit champagne-sipping relaxation and sexual intention.
Songs off his five studio albums have served many as necessary accompaniment for an amorous evening or apologetic reconciliation, nearly the audible equivalent of satin sheets and chocolate-covered strawberries.
But more importantly, his style and substance hasn’t aged, nor has it fallen into some formulaic chasm. Maybe it’s because his brand of funky, moonlit soul has remained adventurous while its message of love, lust and the vulnerabilities associated with both have proven timeless. Or maybe it’s because the titillating honesty on a tune like “… Til the Cops Come Knockin” never gets old.
In a recent New York Times interview, Maxwell said he wanted his music to “sound like you don’t really know when it came out.” On Wednesday night, it might as well have been the 1996. Or 2001. Or 2009. Raw sensuality has no expiration date, as proven throughout the artist’s lively Shea’s performance.
Emerging onstage after an appropriate, purple-lighted playing of Prince’s “Kiss,” Maxwell unleashed an opening tandem of “Dancewitme” and “No One,” strutting and sliding through both while showing off his vocal range. His ease from plainspoken lyrics to a dramatic falsetto is a showstopper, and he dramatically danced between both throughout his entire set.
From there, the tailored-suited singer joined his stellar seven-piece band to tour fans through his entire career, delivering “Love You” as a personalized thank you to Buffalo; dipping into the raw emotion and loss of “This Woman’s Work”; or dishing out the infectious sway of new single, “Lake By The Ocean.”
And for those who started with the artist from his earliest days, songs like “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” and “Fortunate” got the largest ovations, pulling audience members off their feet to both dance and delight in Maxwell’s organ-infused brand of sexual healing.
Before Maxwell, the night introduced the ideal lead-in via rising artist Ro James. Armed with tales of failed relationships and an unapologetic love of intimacy, the raspy-voiced RCA talent connected with early arrivals via the carnal acronym of “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and the pleading thump of emerald-hued single, “Green Light.”
When: Wednesday night in Shea’s Performing Arts Center