Soul singers seem to march to their own rules, as evidenced by separate Twin Cities concerts this weekend by Maxwell and Liv Warfield.
Maxwell has his own sense of rhythm – to his music and especially to his business.
Eight years passed between his third and fourth album, 2009’s “BLACKSumer’sNight.” He hasn’t released an album since then but he decided to launch a 40-city tour this year. On Sunday he performed at the State Theatre – his first Twin Cities appearance since 2001 (when Alicia Keys opened for him).
After letting the intermission drag on for an hour, Maxwell finally took the stage, looking all suave in his sharp suit and shades. On the second night of his comeback tour, he was fully aware of his locale, practically pandering to the crowd by mentioning Minneapolis and all its great music and name-checking Prince and talking about once dating a woman from Minnetonka – “45 minutes from Minneapolis.” Maybe he got lost. Or he’s a slow driver like those slow jams he sings. Or maybe he was just making it up.
In any case, Maxwell, 41, seemed genuinely excited to be back on tour, and the nearly 1,500 fans seemed thrilled to see him. He basked in the attention, turned on the sex appeal and kissed many a woman’s hand near the stage.
He was in good voice, leaning heavily on his falsetto, as expected. It was often difficult to appreciate his vocals because the band was too loud and the two women behind me were chatting nearly nonstop.
The 95-minute set touched the right highlights, especially from his 1990s heyday with “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,’ “This Woman’s Work” and “Ascension.” He offered a sultry duet with Alicia Keys on video of “Fire We Make,” and he delivered his interpretation of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful.” “Cold,” from his 2009 album, had a more up-tempo Latin vibe but otherwise his music seemed stuck in the ‘90s – to the delight of the swooning women and their fellas.
Although hardly fresh, Maxwell was certainly more convincing than D’Angelo, his missing-in-action neo-soul mate, was last year at First Avenue.
Maxwell did have kind of an unusual ending to his show. He passed the mic to each band member and had him or her introduce themselves and their hometown. He wished Happy Father’s Day to the dads in his band.
To end it, Maxwell said: “To all the white people who came to the show tonight, that’s what I’m talking about. Minneapolis you are the most amazing place to be. Where all races come together. You make the most beautiful music and the most beautiful children.” Then he held up a little girl from the audience and with a little encouragement from him, she said into the microphone: “Happy Father’s Day.”
It’s pretty hard to draw a crowd for a modest-venue show on 24-hours’ notice unless you’re name is Prince.
Liv Warfield, one of Prince’s backup singers who has launched her own solo career, performed late-night Friday on only 24 hours’ notice. The attendance was sparse (maybe 100 people) but the performance had many magical moments.
Warfield has an explosive, gospel-infused voice and a commanding, arm-shaking stage presence. She also is strikingly creative, as evidenced on a terrific a cappella arrangement of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” for three female voices.
She also has found a sound that sets her apart, sort of a funk-rock stomp with powerhouse gospel-tinged vocals. Think a more robust Annie Lennox with much more church. Standouts during the 75-minute set were “Freedom,” kind of a Broadway soul shout with a message; “Embrace Me,” which had an island freshness to its swing; the soft and then ebullient reprise to the new number “NotGVNGUP”; a cover of Chaka Khan’s “You Got the Love” on which Warfield got lost in funkiness; the rip-roaring “Why Do You Lie,” with its nifty jazzy vocalese ending; and the emphatic “Black Bird,” which was spiked with New Orleans-flavored bebop horns.
Most of the material was taken from Warfield’s recent release, “The Unexpected,” for which Prince served as executive producer but she wrote most of tunes. On Saturday, he mixed the sound at the back of Paisley’s soundstage but he never got onstage.
Warfield’s band -- two female singers, five musicians and five of (the 11) NPG Horns – was not as tight as ensembles associated with Prince. That was especially apparent on a rendition of Al Green’s great “Love and Happiness,” which used his arrangement but lacked crispness.
Nonetheless, it was an impressive effort by Warfield, especially considering the small crowd as she performed under a "honey moon" (a full moon on Friday the 13th). Warfield deserves a proper, well promoted date in the Twin Cities perhaps at the Dakota Jazz Club or at Paisley Park, which is unquestionably the best sounding music room in the metro.