A quick trivia question: Other than The Beatles, which artist has had three singles in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart at the same time?
The answer is Ashanti, who pulled off the feat back in 2002, when her self-titled debut album ruled the world of R&B. Six years later, the singer is firmly established as one of the genre's dominant forces, amassing a who's who of in-demand producers for her fourth album, "The Declaration," released in June.
At her concert Saturday night in Niagara Fallsview Casino, Ashanti showed herself to be a seasoned performer on a few levels. While her set was dominated by the polished R&B grooves that remain her bread and butter, it also possessed the celebratory atmosphere of a hip-hop show, along with some skillfully choreographed dance sequences that periodically outshone the music itself.
Opening with "Foolish," the best of those monster hits that put the vocalist in the same sentence as the Fab Four, Ashanti got the crowd involved from the outset. Backed by the energetic urgings of her deejay, a significant patch of the Avalon Theatre stood up and danced from this point forward. The song, anchored by a slick, serpentine discussion between a piano and a Fender Rhodes, was executed flawlessly by Ashanti's six-piece band. And as the singer delivered the refrain simply and effectively, it felt like a welcome reprieve from the Mariah Carey school of "I'm going to treat my talent like a blunt instrument and beat you over the head with it."
She kept the energy level up for the rest of the night, perpetually getting the crowd involved by saying things like, "I'm down for Niagara Falls, but I've got one question. Is Niagara Falls down for me?" But nothing got people going like her hits, especially a pair of famous duets -- "What's Luv?" and "Happy."
The party mood came to a temporary halt during the epic ballad "Rain On Me," which featured the most riveting choreography of the evening. For a song that takes on the topic of domestic violence, and finding the strength to overcome it, Ashanti's backup dancers weren't shy in their interpretation.