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Concert review: Maxwell mellow and smooth at Chastain

Robb D. Cohen/www.RobbsPhotos.com

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So after a 90-minute wait in the on-again, off-again rain at Chastain Park, singer Maxwell finally made his way to the stage. His sort-of apology didn't come for another 75 minutes when he acknowledged that "when black women come out in the rain and risk their hair for you, that's love."

Well, never mind that; the crowd had long forgotten the rain and his delay in getting to the stage.

Fans at Chastain on Saturday night saw a Maxwell much different from the one who strutted on the big stage at Philips Arena twice in recent years after the release of his last album, 2009's "BLACKsummers’night."

From the start, his low-key entrance to the jazzy remix of "Sumthin Sumthin" relied less on flashy special effects and dancers and more on the power of his impressive band and his own equally impressive vocals. So much so that after just two songs, Maxwell brought his sax and horn players down a few steps to be closer at his side.

Gone was the clean-shaven Maxwell in skin tight black pants -- replaced by a bearded 40-year-old in a light colored, tailored suit. And fans seemed to respond accordingly with a somewhat mellowed sing-along to 2009's "Bad Habit."

Perhaps sensing after his fourth song, "Cold," that it wasn't a good time to venture into new territory, he admitted that he was skipping a new song for the time being -- opting instead to give the crowd something he knew they wanted. Well, there's never a bad time to bring out "Woman's Work," which offers an amazing showcase of Maxwell's flawless falsetto. It’s a tune that without warning, lets him slip back into tenor as if he riding a wave of smooth, creamy butter.

After a shout-out to Nelson Mandela, followed by another classic, “Lifetime,” fans were informed that the spiritual, philosophical, and intelligent portion of the show was over. “It’s time to “get nasty and ignorant,” Maxwell shouted. “I want some panties thrown in the air.”  

Though it was hard to tell if anyone obliged, it’s safe to say it wasn’t that kind of crowd – nor was it that kind of night. So even as the lyrics got a little more sensual with 2009’s “Stop the World” and “Fire We Make” – a new duet with Alicia Keys that featured Keys singing her part by video, things stayed pretty tame, and before long he was back to “Fortunate” and “Ascension,” two tried-and-true hits guaranteed to lift the crowd to their feet – signaling the end was near.  

In an interview with Billboard magazine during the Essence Music Festival, Maxwell talked about his new album “Summers” (Part 2 of his promised “BlackSummers’Night” triology), due out the end of you guessed it – summer. He said then that he wasn’t prepared to share much of the album before is formal release. It’s certainly a little odd to tour in the months before an album release and only give fans a small sample of what’s in store in just a few short weeks.     

But for Chastain fans, I guess you can’t miss what you don’t know.

(Check out our gallery for more photos from Saturday's show.)

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