R Kelly, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Tuesday 26 April 2011
Standing in a sweltering, packed Hammersmith Apollo, it's hard not to reflect on the bizarre career trajectory of R Kelly.
His popularity clearly endures; fans chant his name and sing along to every word, the front few rows reaching out for a high five or a handshake and the rest of the audience gleefully ignoring the seating provided for the duration of the show. Yet this is also a man whose stardom has been overshadowed by a chequered recent past. Through his troubles with the law – not to mention his infamous "hip-hopera" Trapped in the Closet, which remains an internet sensation for the gloriously ludicrous bravado of its premise and execution – the R&B singer has been involved in more punchlines than headlines over the last few years.
During renditions of still bankable hits like "Bump N' Grind" and "Ignition (Remix)" however, it's as if R Kelly never descended from the pop pedestal he once stood proudly atop. Smoothly moving around the stage as only a savvy veteran performer can, Kelly's energy is relentlessly intense, his vocals impressively powerful.
And while there's an acknowledgement of Kelly's new, soul-tinged material with "When a Woman Loves", this is his first show back in the UK after a lengthy absence and much of the evening is a hit parade. The much imitated, never bettered "I Believe I Can Fly" shines, a perfect R&B-pop ballad whose redemptive, if somewhat cheesy, chorus is brilliantly performed and joyfully received.
There are also a few classic star performer tropes on show – noisily received shout-outs for every section of the crowd, myriad spotlights, plentiful vocal acrobatics – but it all feels suited to the setting and the show.
Just as the concert threatens to really hit hyperdrive, however, it's over. An abrupt finale leaves many people disheartened. Kelly's star power burned brightly, but far too briefly, tonight.
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