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Monday, June 13, 2011

Friday Night: R. Kelly Keeps Waist in Check While Delivering Oakland's Love Letter

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 10:02 AM

R. Kelly performs at KMEL House of Soul at Oracle Arena in Oakland - DOUGLAS ZIMMERMAN
  • Douglas Zimmerman
  • R. Kelly performs at KMEL House of Soul at Oracle Arena in Oakland
R. Kelly 
June 10, 2011 
@ Oracle Arena

Better than: Praying for a 23rd (or predicting the 73,000th) installment of "Trapped in the Closet"

It's been three years to the day since R. Kelly was acquitted of 14 counts of soliciting, videotaping, and producing child pornography. It's an infamous case that clouded his career, yet the majority of Oracle Arena's 19,500-something seats were filled to see the hitmaker perform his (well, our) guilty pleasures on Friday night. We were close enough to see and feel him get emotional at times over this support, and a glance up at the big screen confirmed at least one watery eye moment from him.

Kelly faces the crowd. - DOUGLAS ZIMMERMAN
  • Douglas Zimmerman
  • Kelly faces the crowd.
The performance opened with The Love Letter, a black-and-white film starring a tuxedo'd Kelly and one of his female backup singers, who was begging him to come back to her.

"But you left me for another woman on the Double Up tour!" he mock-protested, then decided that "a man can't hold a grudge forever" and vowed to return to her and his fans via a show filled with excitement! Dancing! Fine outfits and fine music!

The screen went blank and an impressive amount of silver streamers dropped from the sky as Kelly and his band (also in tuxes) were introduced, James Brown-style. Four female dancers appeared holding signs that read "Applause!" and "Make Some Noise!" as the first notes of "Step in the Name of Love" began. Before that song ended, Kelly had sprinted offstage to make the first of several sharp suit changes -- and we understood that, obvious support notwithstanding, he was here to work.

Kelly spent a lot of time pressing flesh. - DOUGLAS ZIMMERMAN
  • Douglas Zimmerman
  • Kelly spent a lot of time pressing flesh.
Kelly's talent lies in writing and singing searingly memorable hooks and melodies, and he wisely knew that he only had to hit the crowd with little more than those moments from his big songs to keep people happy. It seemed like he must have offered about 200 such snippets, but it was probably closer to 30. He covered a lot of ground from early hits like "Your Body's Callin'," "Bump and Grind," and "Keep It on the Down Low," and later pop earworms like "Fiesta (Remix)," "In the Kitchen," and "I'm a Flirt," but never got more than merely suggestive.

His set was styled to look like a little city strip of nightlife, including a Double Up Diner, a Motel 12, a generic Gentleman's Club, and a bar that came with its own bartender, who just amusingly kicked it there behind the counter the whole time. Different projections often veered into cheeky territory, like the pixelated silhouette of Kelly holding up one digit that appeared for current single "Number One Hit."

Only when a montage of his early videos started playing did we truly realize how much restraint Kelly was actually practicing. Though he did try to play a little striptease game with the ladies -- which resulted in a few oversize panties being thrown onstage -- he literally did not move from the waist down during the whole show. Yet the old videos showed him getting low to the ground in all manner of simulated sex positions.

Also conspicuously absent from his set were any of his "Trapped in the Closet" songs, plus modest superhero anthems like "I Believe I Can Fly" and "The World's Greatest." That doesn't mean humility prevailed: A projection of an over-the-top love letter declaring Kelly's musical genius and everlasting importance directed to his fans and supposedly written by his (long-deceased) mother took care of that. Kelly has dialed back a whole lot of flamboyance in his public presentation, but many flickers of flashiness still remain. To wit, his incredible concert conclusion: more streamers and confetti as he fired off a quick rendition of "My Way."

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Tamara Palmer


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