BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Although R. Kelly played Atlanta a few months ago as part of his “Buffet” tour, the King of R&B is always a popular draw in the city that he occasionally calls home.
His quick run of December dates designed to supplement his “12 Nights of Christmas” album ended with a Tuesday night stop at a sold-out Fox Theatre, where Kelly instigated fans to wave their cell phones in the air, sing along to his dozens of hits – some snippets, some full length – and in one instance, rub the parts of his body you would expect R. Kelly to want rubbed.
Here are three takeaways from his latest Atlanta performance.
1. If you came expecting a mature evening of Kelly’s Christmas songs (his “12 Nights of Christmas,” a collection of all-originals, is quite good) and maybe a few of the hits that are safe to play in front of your mom, well, your night didn’t go as planned.
Oh, there was a Christmas tree, a fake fireplace, some holiday-themed visuals and the gliding R&B song “Home for Christmas.” But this Kelly, who strode onstage with a microphone in one hand and a stogie in the other, declared early that he was “drunk as hell,” used a bounty of expletives during his incessant talking between and during songs and, for the first hour of the show, concentrated on sex-obsessed grooves including “The Zoo,” “Strip for You” and “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.”
He also wasted time talking about how good of a show he planned to put on for his fans (here’s an idea, just put on the show) and how “Kellz” (yes, he’s a third-person referencer) was given the rundown backstage about “What I can say, what I can’t say. What I can touch, what I can’t touch.”
2. More than two decades into his career, Kelly still possesses a gorgeous, creamy voice that dips and soars magnificently. It’s too bad we couldn’t hear it over a live band instead of tracks packed with the kind of wincing bass that would knock you off of a speaker riser (Kelly indicated in our recent interview that he would have a band, but one wasn’t visible). On some songs – “Bump N’ Grind,” “Down Low” – Kelly allowed fans to handle the heavy lifting, which they did with apparent joy.
3. While the first chunk of Kelly’s show focused on his favorite topic – the sex shtick has always been an R. Kelly hallmark – he eventually dove into radio-friendly fare including the irresistible “Ignition” (and its rap “Remix”) and other 2000s-era hits, “Fiesta” and ‘I’m a Flirt.” No doubt he’s a tremendous songwriter with infinite ambition – but for a guy about to turn 50, maybe it’s time to tone down the lewdness just a tad.