NEW YORK — Women! Old women, young women, women of all races and shapes. They came in pairs, they came in groups of four, they came in droves to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night to see the second-to-last concert of R. Kelly's brief tour.
Unlike some of his previous tours, this time Kelly's show was stripped; he used a DAT instead of a live band, and his stage set was just a giant radio serving as the backdrop. At the opening, a lady turned one of the boom box's knobs, and each station she changed to played a snippet of an R. Kelly hit. The audience sang along with "12 Play," "Bump n' Grind," "I Can't Sleep Baby (If I)" and "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)."
The last track the girl wound up on was Fat Joe's "We Thuggin'," and as the beat commenced, Kelly's backup dancers and two hypemen hit the stage. Then Kelly made his way out in a black San Antonio Spurs Jersey, matching fedora and a white towel around his neck.
The beat stopped until the singer came to the tip of the stage, where he looked around and then slowly raised his hand before quickly lowering it. The track immediately came back on and Fat Joe himself entered to rap, but his performance was squandered due to mic problems.
Kelly then threw a flurry of hits at the crowd, going into "Home Alone" and remixes of Ginuwine's "Hell Yeah" and his own "Fiesta." The beat from B2K's "Bump, Bump, Bump," which Kelly also produced, served as a short interlude before the lights went out.
"My fans have given me so many hits," he said in a humble tone. "I love y'all. I don't know what to perform next. Y'all gotta tell me what song to sing."
" 'Sex Me'!" some in the audience responded, while others screamed out favorites like "Half on a Baby," "Ignition" and "Honey Love."
"That's what I thought," he answered back as if he could clearly hear one of the requests. The beat for "Your Body's Calling" then filled MSG.
Kelly's vocals could barely be heard over the fans who sang along, "Your bod-deee's call-liiin. So here I come, baby, to save you." As the record progressed to the chorus he was completely drowned out, so he held up the mic, encouraging even more people to sing.
"It's hot in here," the R. told the crowd before starting "Strip for You."
"There'll be three knocks at the door, my baby," the audience sang as Kelly acted out the words with body movements. "My trench coat hits the floor, my baby/ Sit back in the chair, my baby/ 'Cause I'm about to go there, my baby/ And get your body real open, baby/ Do what you been hoping, baby/ Tonight I'm gonna pull a switcheroo/ Do you mind if I strip for you?"
The ladies erupted in hopes of seeing some flesh. The music stopped and Kelly said, "Even under the circumstances, I gotta do what I do. Is that all right? I'm gonna do me."
Doing him didn't mean taking off his clothes (beyond removing his jersey) or even putting his hands in the crotch area of his pants like some have been accustomed to at a Kelly concert. The singer just kept the crowd in the palm of his hand with a beatless rendition of "R&B Thug."
Later Kelly again opted to roll without any musical backing. He told the crowd he's been living in the studio lately and that he was working on a "secret" album, then he gave them a preview of the new song "Sex in the Kitchen."
"Girl, you're in the kitchen cooking me a meal," he sang. "Something makes me wanna go in there and get a feel."
The words seemed to hit home with a gray-haired elderly woman in the audience who was shown on the Garden's giant screens.
"I want sex in the kitchen, over by the stove," continued the R.
Later Kelly played the same action-drenched video of a shootout between his crew and Ron "Mr. Biggs" Isley's faction that aired at June's BET Awards. When Kelly returned to the stage in a blue suit, he and his dancers performed the same routine that millions saw at the BET show.
He replaced his professional backup dancers with people from the audience for the remix of "Step in the Name of Love." No one onstage really knew how to do the step dance that Chicagoans have popularized, but the lucky fans shaking a leg with Kelly did show everyone they knew how to grind on each other.
"Step, step, side to side, round and round, dip it now," audience members sang out, instructing the people on the stage.
Kelly slid off during the dance fray for another wardrobe change. He reappeared wearing the same white Michael Jordan jersey with Japanese lettering from his "Thoia Thoing" video (see "R. Kelly Teaches Ladies Karate, Shows Off Japanese LeBron Jersey In New Clip").
After BET's Big Tigger came out to help on "Snake," Kelly went back to the solo route, performing "Thoia Thoing" and a new remix of it in which describes the slang phrase as a virus that the whole world has.
Given the warmhearted reception that almost every song received, Kelly probably could have chosen any of his hits to close out the show, but the "Ignition" remix turned out to be the capper. After the last "toot, toot" and "beep, beep," Kelly alerted everyone that his time was over and he exited. But as the fans exited, they continued singing the song.
Murder Inc. also received an audible thumbs up from the fans. Ashanti kicked the night off with popular tunes from her two albums, including "Happy," "Foolish" and "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)." The loudest applause for the Incsters, however, was for Ja Rule, who made a surprise appearance to perform "Always on Time" with his usual brash swagger.
Meanwhile, the label's alleged Viagra- and ecstasy-popping CEO, Irv Gotti (see "Irv Gotti Misses Court Date For Drug Case; Bail Is Forfeited"), was also present, smiling and acting as Ashanti's hypeman.
R. Kelly and Ashanti's last show is Saturday in Atlanta. Kelly's "secret" album is remaining just that for the time being. A spokesperson for his label said there are no details available for the project, which isn't scheduled to drop this year.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.