*It’s a little past midnight and the rain is falling; sounds like a lyric from a song, but it paints the picture of last week’s “Essence of Entertainment” show at the Dell Music Center in Philadelphia last week.
Quite possibly the strongest lineup of the summer entertained a sold out crowd as rain intermittently fell and ranged from drizzle to downpour by the time headliner Tyrese took the stage near 11pm. Before him, Lyfe Jennings and Anthony Hamilton took their respective turns at ensuring that rhythm and blues is not only surviving, but thriving.
Having released six albums in the period, Lyfe’s set list included favorites like “Statistics”, “Boomerang” and “Stick Up Kid”, but time constraints allowed for snippets of fan favorites such as, “The River”, “Hypothetically” and “Let’s Stay Together” which created space for a stirring rendition of Al Green’s classic of the same name.
The beauty in Lyfe’s music has always been his vulnerability and transparency, which shine on “Cry” for his debut Lyfe 268-192. The moment he took to his stool and lifted his guitar, there was an eruption and buzz that served as a current to his powerful performance. The ovation was only surpassed when he began “Must Be Nice”, still his biggest hit to date; his performance turned into a sing-a-long as those in attendance rekindled the emotion evoked when they first heard the song and many held on to that special someone they “come home to after a long day’s work”.
The opening horns of “Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens” announced the arrival of Anthony Hamilton and seemed to shoo away the pesky rain that had begun to fall during the set change. His high-impact set moved the chair dancers out of their seats and the passion in voice sent many into a trance as he related pain, longing and passion with equal dexterity.
Though he’s had five major label releases since 2003, much of the material performed came from 2003’s Comin’ From Where I’m From, leaving later favorites like “Pray for Me”, “Her Heart” and “The Point of it All” to the wishes for future concerts. In their stead, we received a rousing rendition of “I’m a Mess” and his amazing backing singers, The Hamiltones, turned “Prayin’ For You” into a revival, replete with Hamilton playing the tambourine. The rain began to fall steadily as he took his place at the microphone and belted out “Charlene”, the tale of a man who’s taken his woman for granted as he chased a career and all of the trappings that come along with it. There was an explosion as he sang, “Woke up this morning, read a letter that she wrote”, which seemed to hold the rain off.
As the stage was being prepared for Tyrese’s performance, the rain fell harder, but it did nothing to dampen the anticipation for the man host Patti Jackson (of WDAS) dubbed “Sexy Chocolate”.
Riding high on the success of his latest release Black Rose, Tyrese took the stage, while security guards struggled to restrain the hordes of female fans from rushing the stage from the outer sections. Noticing the fans straining to get just a bit closer to him, he implored security to let his fans alone, even jokingly threatening to bring Jody (his character from Baby Boy) out if they didn’t allow them to the stage.
Once the ladies had secured their spaces in front of the stage and up the aisles, Tyrese began his performance with many of the hits that’s lined his 20-year career.
Things took a turn for the sexy after an outfit change and reemerged in all white, with red lights to perform “Sweet Lady”, his first hit back in 1996. Despite his strong voice, the words were barely audible over the screams those who sang along.
Despite the success of Black Rose, Tyrese opted to perform songs mostly from his earlier albums, “Signs of Love Making” was a huge hit for the fans, but his performance of “Waiting on You” was worth the price of admission. It’s on this standout from his album that he hearkens the 70’s soul feel transmits longing for his woman, needed her touch, her presence.
It’s fitting that Tyrese performed in a city with such rich musical history in Soul/R&B as he continues his crusade against the seemingly segregationist state of mainstream radio. He’s been extremely vocal about his past two hits being overlooked by mainstream radio, while “urban” stations continue to embrace white artists who add a few drums or a choir to a song and are called soulful. He’s trying to level the playing field, not for himself, but for Anthony Hamilton, Lyfe Jennings, Luke James and others, who are boxed in by the politics associated with the radio game. Once he descended from his soap box, he teased the amazing “Shame” before performing 2011’s “Stay”, whetting the appetite of those now being soaked. His performance of “Shame” was everything those who braved the rain expected; it was moving and powerful, spoke directly to some, hinted to others, but is authentic soul music.
The nature of the show caused each artist to truncate their show, omitting hits and fan favorites; on a rainy night in Philadelphia, R&B was not only alive, but it sounded so damn good!