NEW YORK — [artist id="1715121"]Ryan Leslie[/artist] declared his independence in a big way Tuesday night, when the singer/songwriter performed to a packed house at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom on the first of a two-night residency.
Leslie recently parted ways with his label, Universal Motown, after releasing his self-titled debut and last year's Transition. But as he sets out on his own, this performance proved a worthy showcase for the talented star's range of skill, as a singer, producer and composer.
"This here is about one of my favorite holidays," he said, moving behind the keyboard to deliver a pleasing talk-box-aided vocal homage to Zapp and Roger's "I Want to Be Your Man" before segueing into "Valentine."
"I don't have to say that you're beautiful," Leslie sang in a falsetto tone. "You've got plenty of other guys to say those words for you/ And I don't got to say that you run the show/ All it takes is a word, I lose control for you.
"I know you're not my girlfriend, but/ I swear that I love you," he sang, opening up on the chorus.
Decked out in dark shades, black leather gloves and a matching vest with a denim shirt underneath, Leslie was anything but the R&B lothario. His set was more aggressive and impassioned than in the past, and he opened up the show with a rap to a rock-leaning production.
But Leslie, who led a five-piece band with three background singers, still knows that his crooning is why the people came.
"Addiction" and "Diamond Girl" were among the more rousing numbers of the night. The synthesized chords to "Addiction" pounded throughout the venue.
"You've got fashion and style/ I'm loving your smile and/ The way you get down," he sang. "I can't see no one else/ It's you by yourself/ In spite of the crowd."
In addition to songs from both of his albums, Leslie played a few unreleased gems and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "You and I."
"Here we are, on Earth together/ It's you and I," he sang, using hushed tones for the Motown classic. "God had made us fall in love, it's true/ I've really found someone like you."
What do you think Ryan Leslie's next career move should be? Let us know in the comments.