The Kansas City Music Festival at Municipal Auditorium on Sunday was the best type of oldies concert.
By BILL BROWNLEE
Special to The Star
In addition to evoking fond memories for an audience of more than 3,000, most of the music performed remained surprising vital. The efforts of Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly), El DeBarge and SWV sparkled with radiant liveliness.
Maze, the concerts headliner, remains unaccountably invisible to anyone who isnt a dedicated fan of classic soul, in spite of its remarkable achievements. Vocalist and bandleader Beverly acknowledged Mazes odd status on Sunday.
We have 14, 15, 16 gold and platinum albums, he said. We dont get many awards, but we get the rewards.
The band found a mentor in Marvin Gaye after it relocated to California in the early 1970s. Beverly recalled that this man took care of us like we were his kids. Inspired by Gaye, Maze began creating deep grooves that are both soothing and inspiring.
Beverly, 67, is no longer an exceptional vocalist. His voice was hoarse, and he admitted to getting winded after a potent rendition of the funk stomp Running Away. Yet by remaining impervious to trends, Maze represents a bastion of authenticity. Hits including Back in Stride and Joy and Pain have come to possess the cachet of timeless classics.
Maze has a longstanding reputation as a tremendous live act. DeBarge, however, was the concerts wild card. His career has been hindered by personal issues. He even acknowledged that Ive been to the penitentiary and back during his strong 45-minute outing.
The suave crooner spoke of Valentines Day as he tossed roses into the audience, but his performance was the musical equivalent of a box of chocolates. DeBarge specializes in sweet and sticky love songs. Delivered in a piercing falsetto, sentimental hits like 1983s Love Me in a Special Way have enduring appeal.
SWV, one of the so-called girl groups that connects the Supremes to Destinys Child, effectively brandished their delectable voices on material like chart-topping 1993 hit Weak.
A brief outing by Slick Rick was far less successful. An outlier on the bill, the massively influential rapper put in a perfunctory performance.
Exceptional popular music transcends time and is capable of withstanding the passing of great talents. Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson may be gone, but the powerful performances at the Kansas City Music Festival on Sunday indicated that the R&B tradition remains in capable hands.