Monday, February 23, 2009

Concert review: Ne-Yo!

Last night L and I ventured forth to Radio City to catch the big Ne-Yo concert, featuring opening acts Jazmine Sullivan and Musiq Soulchild. Given my recent lapse into middle age, I was exhausted by 7 pm on Sunday night, and not really excited to head into midtown to see a concert, but let me tell you, dear reader, that this concert was the shit.

It's hard to avoid comparisons to the John Legend show we saw a few weeks ago, so here's the breakdown. This show had tons of energy, the crowd was whooping and clapping the whole time, Ne-Yo had more charisma in his jauntily-cocked hat than earnest ol' John Legend tried to wring out of every song, and the crowd itself was demographically less diverse: mostly well-dressed black people, a surprising number of Asians, and very few white people. Like, a lot of people went to see "Madea Goes To Jail" on Saturday (which I totally want to see) and then made it to the Ne-Yo show on Sunday.

I went to this show thinking I was a moderate Ne-Yo fan, but sitting there in the upper mezzanine, singing out loud so the three fun black girls to my left would know that I am down, I realized that I really love his music. It just has this polish and sense of fullness and completion that I love. His lyrics are simple but insightful, and you can't beat the production. His voice is high but not reedy, but a little further up than I can sing comfortably, unless I decide that I really need to break my larynx with some Ne-Yo emotion. Hearing all of his songs in one fell swoop gave me a huge appreciation for his body of work.

The other amazing thing: Mary J. Blige was at the show, sitting in the third row! I spent a lot of the concert watching the back of her big round blonde hairdo, seeing how she was enjoying the show. "Look, Mary J. is rocking out! She's really into 'Closer'!" Or: "Does Mary J. like this song? He better keep her happy."

Ne-Yo had four dancers, two guys and two girls, and they were excellent. He moved with an almost robotic precision, and his moves were a little flashier and more dramatic than your typical hip hop, but it fit his classic aesthetic. The girls did some sexy grinding all over the place, and they even had this Janet Jackson bit, where they did some awesome moves with scarves straight from her "Alright" video in 1989. I was surprised that I knew that, but I did.

Ne-Yo's stage was pretty basic; a staircase near his band, and a light wall behind him. For one of his more treacly songs he had dry ice blasting on stage from the wings, where it tumbled off the stage and into the VIP seating. "I hope Mary J. doesn't mind all that dry ice," I worried. "I don't feel like she would be into that." It was up around her shoulders at that point.

The main thing about this show was that the energy never lagged. The songs moved quickly, no endless interludes, no uninteresting solos by the bassist, and plenty of good patter. Ne-Yo was calling out individual women in the audience, complementing their outfits or their weaves, and he passed out roses to a few lucky audience members. I didn't get one, but L didn't either. Also, he sang a quick medley of the hit songs he's written for other people ("Irreplaceable," "Take a Bow," "Let Me Love You," "Spotlight,") and I liked them more after hearing his takes.

We arrived at the concert in time to catch Jazmine Sullivan's last song, her hit "Need U Bad," which I like ok. She had a good arrangement and was really wailing it out, on her knees in the center of the stage having a "down on my knees/begging you please" Jodeci moment, with her backup singers keeping time for her.

I was really into Musiq's first two albums, but I kind of lost track of his career in the last couple years. To me he is part of that male R&B team that I love and live by: him, Eric Benet, D'Angelo, R. Kelly, and others. His voice is rich and he sings in the church R&B tradition I can only appreciate from a distance. He was having a great time on stage, singing and dancing and skipping around, rocking out in his three-piece suit in front his all-female band. Although I must note that I didn't like the sounds his background singers made, and one of them really did look like Star Jones.

I'm listening to Ne-Yo as I write this, and I had a really long day today, feeling worried and insecure at work, having a hell of a workout at the gym and a long cold walk home, and now my wife is in bed and I'm sitting here typing, winding down my day and my thoughts, but I find myself getting hyped up again, just thinking about this show. It was so damn good. My ears were ringing and my voice was scratchy as we filed out of Radio City. Ne-Yo and his colleagues had us clapping and singing and snapping for a night -- and if it's good enough for Mary J. Blige, you know it's good enough for me.

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