Of course, an R. Kelly concert is going to be a little bit naughty and a little bit nice. But Saturday’s show at the Orpheum Theatre was billed as “12 Nights of Christmas.”
That’s the title of the Chicago R&B superstar’s latest album and, fittingly, the stage was decorated with a Christmas tree, a fireplace with holiday stockings, and a bar with a bartender – and a few hand-picked women from the audience sat at the bar or on a couch by the tree.
Kelly sang a tune or two from his new holiday album and assured the fans that you could make love to it.
Anyone who went to the jam-packed Orpheum knows Kelly offers baby-making music and some raunchier fare. He grabbed his crotch at times, held fans’ phones for close-up selfies of his crotch and let women at the foot of the stage paw and claw at him.
Kelly, 49, who beat highly publicized charges of having sex with underage girls a decade ago, did show his flair for dubious choices in a video shown while he was offstage changing outfits.
It showed him pointing a gun directly into the camera and announcing “I’m the Ghost of Christmas.”
“That was retarded,” said the young woman next to me.
The video notwithstanding, the young woman, like the rest of the fans, seemed to enjoy the entertaining 95-minute performance even though Kelly, who has had 25 Top 10 R&B hits since the mid-‘90s, teased with merely a chorus or perhaps a verse and a chorus of many songs, including “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Sex in the Kitchen.” Only a few times did he actually deliver a full version of a song.
With his band apparently hidden (or was he merely using a DJ?), he stalked the stage, with a rhinestone-encrusted microphone in one hand and a fat cigar in the other. For several numbers he played a grand piano (which was covered with a red-velvet cloth to match his red jacket), revealing his churchy roots here and there. And, after frequently visiting the onstage bar, he admitted that he was a little drunk.
Having recovered from 2011 throat surgery, Kelly definitely poured his heart and soul into full treatments of “12 Play” (during which he waltzed with himself), “When a Woman Loves” (which had a doo-wop meets gospel vibe) and the emphatic “Step in the Name of Love.”
And that was nice enough for his faithful.