Deafness is becoming an issue by the time Ginuwine ambles on stage in a showy red leather tracksuit. Hopeful boyband ATL preceded the American soul lothario, creating high-pitched hysteria among the large female teen contingent present. But Elgin Baylor Lumpkin (no wonder he opts for the sexier G or Gin) is indisputably tonight's big shot. Despite being pictured bare-chested on a shag pile carpet for the cover of his new DVD The Videos, tonight G's style is more 50 Cent than velvet-voiced seducer. The trademark 'tache is barely visible and his buff figure bears no love handles.
It was Timberland's production wizardry on Ginuwine's 1996 debut album The Bachelor plus guest appearances with Missy Elliott that lifted Ginuwine above fellow smoothies. Hit duets with Fat Joe and P Diddy confirmed his status so that by the time he brought out his fourth album - The Senior in 2003 - the introduction was done by Mike Tyson and it included vocals from Snoop Dogg, R Kelly and Method Man.
Live, Ginuwine's voice certainly fulfils the hype and is a marked improvement on the overbearing slickness that can drip off his records. We get a shortened version of "Pony" and a half-hearted rendition of "Hell Yeah". Best are the slushy classic "Differences" and "In Those Jeans" featuring the sublime lyric: "Is there any more room for me/ In those jeans?"
It's an all-male cast as Sole - the mother of his second child and vocalist on "Sex" - is absent. The show is evidently about entertaining the ladies, and Ginuwine dutifully spends most of his time writhing around on the floor in a suggestive fashion, flashing his waxed chest and grabbing his crotch. At one point he impersonates a magician, producing a white sweatband from his trousers instead of a rabbit. The shrieking peaks when he rips off his vest and hurls it on to the first-floor balcony, causing a lengthy scramble.
It's like watching MTV: chat, posturing and audience participation take precedence over musical content. Ginuwine isn't just an R&B star: he's a fragrant, male Oprah and wannabe brand. He judges a talent contest that involves inviting two men on to stage to grind along to Sean Paul and Lumidee (rather than his own tracks). As he picks up a video camera and shoots a home movie, he demands: "Scream out loud, so I can hear it back in DC!"
After just under an hour, Ginuwine exits. There is no encore and the finale is an anticlimax. Perhaps it will take place across town; after all, he built his reputation on making music for the bedroom.
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