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Concert review: Toni Braxton sultry and stunning at Atlanta homecoming

Toni Braxton 1
Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC

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“I don’t know what I was thinking when I was trying to retire…all this love,” Toni Braxton said early in her show as loyal fans shrieked appreciatively at the Atlanta resident’s change of heart.

Indeed, earlier this year Braxton announced she was retiring from music, but a few months later revealed that she and longtime collaborator Babyface were working on a duets album for release this fall.

Seems like a good move, since Braxton appeared comfortable, happy and ready to show a little leg onstage throughout her 90-minute rain-dampened concert Saturday night at Chastain Park Amphitheatre.

For 20 years she’s delivered a constant stream of silky R&B tunes, her deep contralto voice immediately identifiable.

Though that beautiful instrument of hers got a little lost in the arrangements of the first couple of songs – “How Many Ways” and “Seven Whole Days” – Braxton hit a vocal grand slam a few minutes later with her vocal acrobatics on “You Mean the World to Me.”

Looking stunning in a series of outfits – flowing peach and black gowns with a slit up to Vermont and a short and sexy blue sparkly number for the uptempo tunes – Braxton, her glossy black hair hanging straight down her back, was a warm and inviting presence all evening.

She frequently mentioned how good it was to be home, acknowledged her struggle with lupus (“I have good days and bad days…today is a good day”) and started to make a habit of bringing fans onstage (her dark-suited security guy looked ready to throttle anyone who misbehaved).

During “Another Sad Love Song,” her breakthrough single that has held up beautifully, Braxton invited a couple onstage to sing with her, but couldn’t have expected them to belt the song with such confidence and stalk the stage like pros.

But Braxton, 45, just smiled and ceded the spotlight momentarily. She knows who is boss.

Amusingly, as she took requests from the crowd, which filled about 2/3 of Chastain, one member suggested Jody Watley’s “Real Love.”

“Can we focus, please?” Braxton joked. “This is the Toni show.” 

Her ardent followers got plenty of that, as she and her backup singing sisters Trina and Towanda, along with Braxton’s slick six-piece band, glided through a medley including “Spanish Guitar,” a crystalline “How Could An Angel Break My Heart” and “Let It Flow,” which she said was Whitney Houston’s favorite song of hers.

The show lagged a bit when Braxton spent an inordinate amount of time calling couples onstage because she wanted to serenade them with “Breathe Again,” re-arranged a bit as more of a piano ballad. It didn’t seem like quite the right song for the moment – or maybe these fans were particularly boisterous – but Braxton, to her credit, gave out plenty of hugs in between verses.

Her generosity extended to her sisters – Traci was also in the house – and a reel of “Braxton Family Values” clips rolled on video screens to remind everyone of the good-natured silliness among the siblings.

Trina, Towanda and Traci performed Trina’s solo song “Party or Go Home,” a mirror ball thumper as generic as its title before Toni returned in her party dress for the groove-oriented medley of “Please” and “Take This Ring.”

She and her sisters engaged in some rubbery dance moves during “He Wasn’t Man Enough for Me” before Braxton turned sultry again for “You’re Makin’ Me High.”

She’s always deftly straddled the line between lush R&B balladeer and still-sexy dance floor diva, and her return home confirmed that she’s still in control.

Good thing retirement has been shelved for now, indeed.

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