Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott and Usher can step aside. Chrisette Michele's powerhouse performance at the Uptown Theater on Friday indicated that she may be today's most vital R&B artist.
Michele's career has been characterized by missteps and albums that don't fully reflect her dynamic personality and wondrous voice. She overcame those impediments during Friday's stunning 65-minute outing.
Born in New York in 1982, Michele is a natural performer. She told Friday's audience about putting on a show for her parents when she was 8. The display of beat-boxing that accompanied her story was surprisingly impressive.
Backed by a DJ, a two-piece horn section and a guitarist, Michele exhilaratingly dismissed musical boundaries as she tastefully showcased her operatic voice and consequential songs. Only the absence of a live rhythm section prevented her performance from being entirely transcendent.
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Michele transformed "If I Have My Way," a slick song from her 2007 debut album, into a spare folk meditation. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, her assured rendition of "Get Through the Night" silenced the otherwise rambunctious audience of about 1,100.
Michele demonstrated her jazz chops on "Better," the title track of her fourth and most recent album, and showcased her spiritual side on a heartfelt reading of Richard Smallwood's gospel song "Total Praise." A stately reading of "A Couple of Forevers," a recent hit that sounds like an instant R&B classic, concluded Michele's set.
Her dignified effort was offset by a disappointingly lewd performance by co-headliner Raheem DeVaughn.
DeVaughn, a self-described "R&B hippie neo-soul rock star" from Washington D.C., is an accomplished artist. Yet he seemed oddly ill at ease during a frenetic 70-minute set. Rather than occasionally peppering his performance with sexually oriented gesticulating, DeVaughn made the mannerisms a central component of his act. The owner of an elastic voice and a large catalog of terrific songs, DeVaughn's over-the-top antics were unnecessary.
DeVaughn and his three-piece band dialed back the manic theatrics to deliver a beautiful take of "Ridiculous" and a stormy version of "Bulletproof," his spectacular update of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man." He also led fans in a soothing chant of "you are appreciated" as he wandered through the audience during "Woman."
DeVaughn's behavior was unseemly, but his tour mate Michele was close to impeccable. Michelle may have sung that "I can't be super all the time" during "Supa," but on Friday she resembled a soul superhero.