If there was ever an artist more deserving of the “King of Hearts” title, it would be Maxwell. Headlining the “King + Queen of Hearts World Tour” with acclaimed songstress Mary J. Blige, the R&B singer mesmerized at Oracle Arena with songs spanning five albums and enough seduction to keep thirsty concertgoers on their feet.
Wearing a designer suit and black shades, Maxwell commanded the affections of devoted fans with his opening, funk-infused song “Dancewitme.” Living up to his iconic sex symbol status, the Grammy winner electrified the stage with charisma, sultry vocals and smooth rhythm that enveloped the arena in pure ecstasy. After the crowd-pleasing introduction, Maxwell transitioned into his soulful tune “Everything: To Want You to Want.” Head-nodding, finger-snapping and shoulder-shimmying ensued as the Brooklyn-born vocalist reigned over his court.
A seasoned musician with an extensive 20-year career predating millennials, Maxwell’s audience comprised a mature crowd featuring countless couples and women of a certain age — because nothing says date night better than watching the legendary Queen of Hip Hop Soul and the King of Neo-Soul perform live.
As a founding pioneer of neo-soul, Maxwell has garnered mainstream recognition as an inspiration to the genre since his debut album “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.” Stemming from soul and contemporary R&B of the late 90s, neo-soul borrows elements of jazz, funk, hip-hop, pop and African music while sticking to its traditional R&B roots. With hits like “Pretty Wings” and “Whenever Wherever Whatever,” Maxwell has proven himself the rightful heir to the neo-soul throne. Fellow pioneers of the subgenre D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu have helped Maxwell pave a way for new neo-soul artists to shine — from Grammy-nominated singer Jazmine Sullivan to the equally talented Musiq Soulchild. Known for reinventing Black pop, neo-soul has successfully shaped modern-day soul and delivered out-of-this-world music that has resonated with fans worldwide.
The true showstopper of the evening was Maxwell’s poignant rendition of Kate Bush’s single, “This Woman’s Work.” Set before a darkened arena, Maxwell brought his audience to a tear-jerking standstill as he performed his cover and paid homage to “Black Lives Matter” activists and the late Muhammad Ali with a moving slideshow. Not a dry eye was in sight as the R&B artist captivated listeners and used his platform to uplift the concerns and voices of protesters involved in the social justice movement. Standing at the intersection of activism and entertainment, Maxwell gave new meaning to a timeless cover that demonstrated his artistic agency, compassion and social consciousness.
Though Mr. King of Hearts commanded the stage with full sovereignty, Maxwell graciously shared the spotlight with his audience as he performed fan-favorite single “Lifetime.” Raising the microphone stand like a steamy torchbearer, Maxwell paused in the middle of his song to give listeners an opportunity to sing along — and sing along they did! With impeccable coherence, the vibrant crowd chanted “And I, I can let my life pass me by / Or I can get down and try” while Maxwell grooved for his enthralled admirers. As the image of an orchid bloomed behind him, the singer easily lured his audience into a “Lifetime” of breathtaking harmony.
Complementing Maxwell’s unparalleled talent was his exceptional band. The award-winning singer humbly shared his crown with fellow musicians on stage and gave his ensemble respectable solos that satisfied and entranced listeners stadium-wide. Nothing compared to the solo performance of Maxwell’s trumpet player, Keyon Harrold. Playing to “Lake By the Ocean” — a fresh tune from Maxwell’s new album BlackSUMMERS’night — Harrold caressed the crowd with an intoxicating range of sounds from his instrument that perfectly accompanied Maxwell’s sizzling, neo-soul single.
What is a king without respect for a queen? In the middle of his setlist, Maxwell took time to acknowledge Mary J. Blige by soulfully singing her name, complementing the Grammy-winning singer and thanking her for blessing the crowd with her spellbinding presence. A match made in R&B heaven, Mary J. Blige and Maxwell delivered plenty of soul, passion and magic that slayed the hearts of listeners in the most royal way imaginable.
Contact Jordan Joyner at [email protected].