Mr. Bump & Grind Arrives in Baltimore
Story By Deborah Leung
Photo’s By Benjamin Rogers, Jr
R. Kelly named his current tour after his most recent album, “The Buffet,” but his show Saturday night at the Royal Farms Arena at times was more like the cafeteria food fight in the movie “Animal House.”
For more than two hours, Kelly and his entourage — a collection of musicians and dancers — entertained a crowd of nearly 6,000 by firing fusillades and barrages of medleys and song snippets into the air like bottle rockets.
Much of the music was a mix of live performances backed heavily by prerecorded music, and although at times the show felt like a glorified karaoke presentation, none of that seemed to matter to a crowd that attended with a sole purpose: to see and listen to one of the most successful pop musicians of the past 20-plus years.
The presentation was curious odd from the start. There was a live band onstage, but it was swept into the corner, shrouded by darkness, and its performances sounded secondary to the other music and sounds coming off the stage.
The set list comprised too many songs to list or keep track of. Many were buried in rapid-fired snippets and medleys and lasted less than a minute. However, my iPhone music-search application was able to catch some of them: “Thoia Thoing,” “Feelin’ on Yo Booty,” “Ignition,” “Fiesta,” “I’m a Flirt,” “You Remind Me of Something,” “Freaky in the Club” and “Your Body’s Callin’,” many of the Kelly tracks that heave and moan sex and eroticism.
The show proceeded at a sometimes disheveled pace. It was first interrupted by a prerecorded skit broadcast on the video screen in which Kelly meets with advisers who recommend he do away with things like alcohol, after-parties, weed, cellphones and women backstage. He, however, disagrees and recommends more of all of the above. That was about as clever as it got.
Most objectionable and shameless was the short skit in which Kelly mocked the time he was acquitted of sexual misconduct charges. During the skit, as Kelly talked about wanting some kind of post-show hookup, a guy ran across the stage with a sign that read “21 and over.” Not funny.
There were other scripted moments that derailed the mood, like the dialogue between Kelly and a blimp called the R. Bot, which sailed across the arena for a spell.
Those episodes only quelled momentum built during the blasts of music that showcased the dozens of hits he has compiled during a career approaching three decades, sexually charged songs like “It Seems Like You’re Ready,” “Bump N’ Grind” and “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know).”
Kelly followed that with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” He then disappeared for a bit, leaving the stage to a stagehand with a weak T-shirt launcher to send a few souvenirs into the crowd while Kelly changed wardrobe. He emerged in what looked like an aluminum tuxedo to perform “When a Woman Loves,” showing off his exceptional voice. He closed the show with two more soul classics: “Happy People” and “Step in the Name of Love.”
They brought to a close a show that, though wandering and reckless at times, sated the appetites of fans who came to indulge in the libidinous sounds of one of pop music’s more mercurial, prolific and controversial stars.