Invoking the title of the most recent album of his illustrious career, Charlie Wilson told an audience of about 8,000 at the Sprint Center on Thursday that he was “in it to win it.” He succeeded.
Nicknamed Uncle Charlie by his younger admirers, Wilson, 64, rose to prominence as the lead vocalist of the Gap Band, a powerhouse funk ensemble from Tulsa. During a gospel portion of his wildly entertaining 90-minute show, Wilson recalled that “I used to struggle with drugs and alcohol, but I’m 22 years clean and sober.”
His solo career took off with the 2005 album “Charlie, Last Name Wilson.” He playfully demonstrated his smooth rapport with smitten female fans during a rendition of the title track on Thursday. Few in the audience could compete with Wilson’s strapping voice, flashy clothes and ingratiating smile.
Backed by four dancers and an impeccable 10-member band that included a three-piece horn section and two backing vocalists, Wilson revived classic dance hits by the Gap Band like “Outstanding” and “Oops Up Side Your Head” in addition to debuting new material including his current hit “I’m Blessed.”
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The jubilant synchronized dancing, gaudy colors of the wardrobes worn by Wilson and his band and the dancers’ occasional lack of clothing caused much of Wilson’s outing to resemble the music videos aired by MTV in the early 1980s.
Fantasia and a troupe of eight musicians and dancers also combined old and new sounds in an hourlong appearance. The winner of the 2004 season of “American Idol” has become a surprisingly adventurous artist.
In addition to applying her gale-force voice to two searing gospel selections while crouched on her hands and knees, Fantasia had the bravura to belt out the harrowing civil rights song “Strange Fruit” to a party-minded audience while accompanied only by a pianist.
Accompanied by an eight-member ensemble, the virile-voiced R&B veteran Johnny Gill opened the show with a remarkable string of hits that included his 1990 chart-topper “My, My, My.” While impressive, he and Fantasia were no match for Wilson.
“Ain’t nobody (else) out here from the ’70s and ’80s is still making records,” Wilson said.
While that’s not entirely true, Wilson’s ongoing success at the box office and on the sales charts separate him from his peers. Thursday’s triumphant outing further affirmed that Wilson is the most estimable R&B artist of his generation.