R. Kelly has a lot of hits. Dozens of them. And during his sold-out show at Detroit’s Fox Theatre Saturday — the first night of a two-night-stand at the venue — the Chicago R&B legend managed to perform a good number of those songs.
Well, parts of them at least. During his 100-minute concert, Kells filed through bits of hit after hit — some from his 11 solo albums, some from his collaborations with other artists — in rapid fire, A.D.D. succession. They came one right after another, choruses stacked on choruses, intros on top of intros, in a dizzying blur of titles. It was like an R. Kelly iPod on shuffle, skipping to the next song every 30 seconds: “Your Body’s Callin,” “Fiesta,” “Ignition,” “I’m a Flirt,” “Go Getta,” “Hotel,” “Real Talk,” “In the Kitchen,” “Down Low,” “Feelin’ on Yo Booty,” “Heaven I Need a Hug,” “12 Play,” “Bump and Grind,” “I Wish,” and so on. And so on, and so on.
An impressive array of hits, yes, but it didn’t make for much of a concert. Kelly has followed this same format for his last several concert tours, and while he’s a charismatic performer and on-stage personality, he seems unwilling to challenge himself or switch away from dropping non-stop reminders of his work, rather than actually doing the songs themselves. Trotting out snippets of hits is cheap: It guarantees non-stop pops from the crowd, but at the end it leaves you feeling empty. It’s offers the essence of performance, but it’s not a true performance.
Then at the end of the evening, he finally switched things up, performing “I Believe I Can Fly” in its entirety. It was 90 minutes into the concert, and it was the first song he allowed to unfold naturally, and it was a thrill to hear Kelly — in stunning vocal shape after undergoing a career-threatening throat surgery in 2011 — flex his powerful pipes on his inspirational anthem. He followed it up by performing a full, booming version of “When A Woman Loves,” and he closed with “Step in the Name of Love” — one of his most purely pleasureable works — again, performed in full.
It begged the question — where was that Kells all night? And what would it take to get a full concert of that R. Kelly?
Everyone knows Kells has lots of hits, and no one is taking anything away from them. But in his case less is more, and I would trade a dozen full songs for snippets of three dozen any day. It’s time R. Kelly goes out and gives his career the tour it deserves.