NEWARK, New Jersey — With the likes of Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Trey Songz dominating the pop/R&B space, some people may have forgotten R. Kelly. While Kels has been by no means dormant — he’s released two albums, Untitled and Love Letter, in the past two years — his brand of R&B hasn’t found a steady home on contemporary Top 40 or urban radio.
None of that seemed to matter Thursday evening as he played to a raucous sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center. Opening acts Marsha Ambrosius and Keyshia Cole showcased their vocal prowess, as the crowd filed in to the arena. Cole seemed to be winning over the audience, but it was easy to figure out whom the crowd had come to see, especially considering the line to get pictures snapped in front of giant, air-brushed portraits of R. Kelly.
Kelly’s set opened up with a black-and-white video of him sitting at a bar, enjoying a cigar and a glass of scotch or some other dark liquor as a woman approaches. The “old timey” video is in line with the theme of the Love Letter tour: The corresponding album was an ode to classic soul singers of decades past, like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson.
In the video, the woman — a past lover — presses Kels to return to her, and the crowd begged and pleaded along. Once the video ended, Kelly was revealed to be sitting at the bar of his casino-themed stage. He pulled a lever and commenced a nearly two-hour sing-along.
Kels’ set was a musical journey through Chocolate Factory, TP-2.com, Happy People and the rest of his catalog, and at one point he waded into the crowd to get their help singing. He performed a medley of songs that included “Step in the Name of Love,” “Ignition (Remix),” “Fiesta,” “Feeling on Yo Booty” and “Down Low.” Fans seemed to relish Kelly’s older hits from his first solo album, 12 Play, including “Your Body’s Callin’,” “Sex Me” and, of course, “12 Play.”
Toward the end of the show, the screens displayed a letter from Kelly’s mom, thanking the audience for their dedication to her son, along with another video showing Kels throughout the years. While he may not dominate the radio like he once did, he may not need to. Most of contemporary R&B would kill to have his longevity anyway.
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