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New jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley hijacks Keith Sweat’s Starlight Theatre concert

R&B crooner Keith Sweat performed Saturday at Starlight Theatre
R&B crooner Keith Sweat performed Saturday at Starlight Theatre File photo

A man whose name didn’t appear on the bill stole the show at Starlight Theatre on Saturday.

The unexpected presence of Teddy Riley, who altered the direction of popular music in the 1980s and ’90s, delighted an audience of about 6,500.

Riley performed a stunning medley of his influential hits, besides sitting in with headliner Keith Sweat.

Aside from the unforeseen contributions of Riley, adoring fans knew exactly what to expect from Sweat. His persuasive songs of seduction are staples of adult R&B playlists. His frequent area appearances are lascivious but not overly lewd.

Sweat’s first six albums sold more than 12 million copies in the United States. His popularity has diminished in recent years, but his place in the R&B firmament is secure. The balladeer’s sultry slow jams represent the musical bridge between Marvin Gaye and Mary J. Blige.

Backed by Riley and a seven-piece ensemble, Sweat sang sleek love songs, including the 1988 hit “Make It Last Forever.”

Sweat’s short temper soured his 80-minute outing. He angrily told a woman he invited to the stage to “hurry up” and repeatedly complained about the quality of the sound. It’s possible that the domineering presence of Riley agitated Sweat.

As the primary developer of the style known as new jack swing, Riley merged hip-hop and R&B in the 1980s.

During a performance under the auspices of the R&B group Blackstreet, Riley proudly proclaimed “that’s my music I’m playing” after re-creating Heavy D and the Boyz’s 1991 hit “Now That We Found Love.” Riley also played renditions of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” and Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker,” other songs he helped write and produce.

Along with the newly reconstituted version of Blackstreet that included powerhouse vocalist Dave Hollister, Riley also played an exciting update of the group’s groundbreaking 1996 hit “No Diggity.”

The show opened with a disjointed effort by Troop, a California group remembered for the 1990 hit “All I Do Is Think of You.” Vocal trio SWV followed with a pleasing 30-minute set. While entertaining, they were no match for Riley.

One of the women Sweat later attempted to woo on the stage seemed to prefer the company of Riley. Like much of the audience, she recognized the real star of the show.