Fantasia Barrino and Anthony Hamilton, superlative soul artists from North Carolina, galvanized an audience of about 6,500 people Friday night at Starlight Theatre.
The co-headliners have more in common than their shared roots in the Tar Heel State. By adding contemporary flourishes to gritty Southern soul, Barrino, who uses only her first name professionally, and Hamilton are mindful of the music’s history without seeming overly reverent. The vocalists testified about their faith in God, the power of prayer and the ability of music to help people surmount life’s challenges.
Hamilton performed first. The opening selection, “Save Me,” upheld the longstanding R&B tradition of conflating spiritual and sexual ecstasy. Liberated by a woman with a “mighty backside,” Hamilton moaned that “I just want to be born again.”
His five-piece band and the Hamiltones, his magnificent trio of supporting vocalists, occasionally performed as if they were at a Sunday morning church service rather than a secular Friday night concert. Yet Hamilton won’t be mistaken for a choirboy. A rendition of “Comin’ Where I’m From,” an anguished funk lament that’s the title track of his 2003 breakout album, was sung from the perspective of a jailed man.
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The impact of Hamilton’s expressive voice was diminished by deplorably tinny and inexplicably muted sound throughout his 75-minute set. The sound was substantially improved during Fantasia’s appearance, but the absence of live video projections was disappointing. Only the people near the stage could fully appreciate Fantasia’s multiple wardrobe changes and spirited emoting.
Fantasia was the implausible winner of the 2004 season of “American Idol.” Unlike most victors of the TV singing competition, Fantasia is neither polished nor bland. The rough edges that charmed the public a dozen years ago were fully evident on Friday.
An excitable singer with a scratchy voice who freely sacrifices finesse for feeling, Fantasia is in the tradition of such powerful R&B belters as James Brown and Mary J. Blige.
Fantasia suggested that she was “going to play a little bit of everything.” In addition to R&B, her 70-minute outing included gospel, rock and torch songs. She told the eight musicians who backed her to “swing it” on a jazz interpretation of the Grammy Award-winning song “Bittersweet” and warned that she would “get a little ratchet” on a searing reading of the spiteful 2013 hit “Without Me.”
As she explained what compels her to perform, Fantasia said, “I ask God to use me to bless somebody.” On Friday, thousands were anointed in the transformative ministry of her earthy music.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag
Fantasia: Change Your Mind, Selfish (I Want U 2 Myself), Don’t Act Right, Without Me, I’m Doin’ Me, Summertime, Bittersweet, Proud Mary, Nasty Girl, The Bird, When I See U, If I Ruled the World, Lose to Win, Truth Is, Free Yourself, Ain’t Gon’ Beg You, Sleeping With the One I Love
Anthony Hamilton: Save Me, Cool, Comin’ Where I’m From, What I’m Feelin’, Best of Me, Amen, The Point of It All, Hotline Bling, Put Some Respect On It, Soul’s On Fire, Still, Charlene, So In Love