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The crowded house at Shea's Performing Arts Center let Brian McKnight know that he could return home "Anytime" he wants.

Screams of excitement greeted the soulful R&B singer, songwriter and producer as he returned to the city where he grew up. McKnight wooed the Shea's audience with his heartbreaking songs of love lost and found, many off his new million-selling CD, "Anytime."

Shouts of "I love you, Brian" were so loud at one point, an audience member yelled a plea for McKnight to silence the crowd with an answer from the stage. "I love you, too" was his reply before he softly began "After the Love" off his 1992 platinum CD. (McKnight's response didn't silence subsequent screams of affection, however.)

McKnight took his time with "After the Love," crooning details of a painful breakup. He used his jazz influences to draw the heartache out just enough to gain more sympathetic responses from the crowd.

The handsome, 28-year-old singer was backed by a six-piece band, two female singers and, at times, two female dancers dressed in black cheerleader-type outfits. His use of instruments was economical, yet highly rhythmic, allowing McKnight's passionate voice to be the focal point.

McKnight wasted little time in talking about the city he calls his hometown, reminiscing about the days he performed just next door to Shea's, dreaming about singing on the stage of the grand theater. "I thought someday, it will be my time, and I'll move to performing here," McKnight said. "Thank you."

Dressed in a loose-fitting black suit with a bright, royal blue shirt and donning a brilliant smile, McKnight used sexy body movements to pull the audience into his songs. A slight sway of the hip or a gyrating body part drew loud sighs and cries; a quiet musical moan acted as a magnet to literally draw some women out of their seats.

In the past, McKnight has said he wants to write songs with real sentiments and magic melodies, creating "moods everyone can feel." The impassioned audience reaction was proof that his R&B magic touched the hearts of an audience composed of men and women, young and old.

McKnight simply oozed sensuality, underscoring the emotional depths of his songs. Who wouldn't believe his pleading with a new love to trust him on "The Only One for Me" or change her insensitive ways after learning the pain it causes on "The Way Love Goes"?

He displayed his bass prowess on the up-tempo rhythms of "Till I Get Over You." At one point, McKnight and his bass player crafted melodic solos off each other. The song's funky feel was a brief respite from the ballads, as was the opening number, "Jam Knock." Both were off "Anytime."

McKnight was a commanding stage presence and didn't need extraneous efforts (such as the two dancers behind him on the emotional "Anytime") to keep the crowd's attention. The audience just wanted McKnight -- anything or anyone else was irrelevant.

Buffalo comedian Steve Wilson, the opening act, had the Shea's audience screaming and screeching with laughter.

Wilson took on talk shows and Jerry Springer, often interweaving anti-violence and anti-drug messages in a non-preaching manner. He displayed a hilarious knack for improvisation while going one-on-one with a heckler.

Brian McKnight, R&B
singer with Buffalo ties

Friday night at Shea's
Performing Arts Center

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