Transformed and transfixed: that’s how R&B songstress Jill Scott left the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Thursday night after turning the auditorium into a sexy soul lounge and captivating the near-capacity crowd with a wildly satisfying tour de force performance.
“Clearly I don’t come to Kansas City enough,” the three time Grammy Award winner coyly said to the audience, which clearly agreed. This summer tour stop was Scott’s first trip to Kansas City since co-headlining the Maxwell and Jill Scott tour in 2010 and her first solo headlining stop since 2008.
Back then, some might have still been wondering “Who is Jill Scott?” Nowadays, you don’t even have to ask.
“You’re now rocking with the best,” Scott reminded the audience as she stood among her 10-piece band in a frilled black jumper, statement necklace and brown wedge heels.
It may have been seven years since her last visit, but that didn’t stop Scott from making herself at home right away. Within five minutes of taking the stage, the wedges were kicked off, a glass of wine was poured, and ‘Jilly from Philly’, one of the defining voices of R&B in the new millennium, had reduced the 3,500-seat theater to the Green Lady lounge.
Over the course of a 90-minute set, Scott traipsed through her 17-year catalog of material as she celebrated, encouraged, challenged and enticed her viewing audience.
Being unattached to a specific project, Scott was able to roam freely throughout her discography. Twists and turns and riffs were going to happen, or as Scott told the audience, “This is a live music presentation, baby.”
For many artists, this kind of wide-open autonomy might be a risk. But for Scott, a virtuoso of drama and stagecraft, it is a candy store. She revels in the opportunity to contort her thundering soprano or wholly deconstruct a song’s structure and rebuild it from scratch.
The challenge of traversing from the airy weightlessness of Minnie Riperton to the bellowing power of Jennifer Holliday or the operatics of Leontyne Price — sometimes in the course of a single song (as she did in her rapturous encore performance of ‘He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat’) — isn’t really a challenge at all; it’s more of an exercise. This is a woman for whom the voice is not just an instrument, but a Swiss Army knife.
Musically, Scott performed from each of her five albums, blending moods of triumph and happiness (“Hate on Me,” “Golden,” “A Long Walk”), apprehension (“Prepared,” “Making You Wait,” “Talk to Me”), carnality (“Crown Royal”) and tenderness (“The Way,” “Cross My Mind,” “It’s Love”) often interspersed with tender interpolations of self love.
“I wonder, is there anybody in KC worth love?” she asked at one point. At another, she led the crowd in chanting: “Gonna love myself just a little bit more than the day before.”
It was a perfect set-up for the political, sobering turn toward the end of the night when, against a video montage of black and brown men, women and children murdered by police, Scott performed “My Petition,” a protest song from her 2004 album “Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2.”
“I’m angry,” she said. “Is anybody else angry?” It was, for the majority black and brown audience, the most emotional moment of the night.
Aiming to close the night out on a positive note, Scott pivoted again, from anger to resilience with a spirited performance of “Hate on Me,” her Grammy nominated song about self-affirmation and redemption.
The night ended, as it only could, with a soul-stirring six-minute rendition of “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),” a song that, over the years, has become the crown jewel of the Jill Scott live performance.
“Stand up, be strong,” Scott said before leaving the stage. “Love yourself.”
Be Ready, Golden, Whatever, A Long Walk, Prepared, Can’t Wait, Talk to Me, Making You Wait, Crown Royal, The Way, Cross My Mind, Calls, Slowly Surely, It’s Love, Brother Sister (cover), My Petition, Hate on Me, He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)