By Cristalle Elaine Bowen, Chicago Crusader
“I know some of y’all go to church in here…but THIS ain’t church! We gon’ get freaky in here tonight! It’s a freaky Christmas!!!”
R. Kelly’s Holiday Home Jam was nothing short of great entertainment. While on tour promoting his “12 Nights of Christmas” album (you read that right: R. Kelly has a Christmas album), he reminded Chicago of his local roots while blazing through hits from his entire catalogue.
Opener Mark JP Hood, a finalist on “The Voice,” showed true professionalism. While aptly playing to the audience, he got everyone screaming the words to his rendition of Blackstreet’s hit “No Diggity.”
Warming up the crowd for an R. Kelly audience is no easy task. Warming up the crowd for a Chicago hometown R. Kelly audience is even more challenging. Next on the bill was June’s Diary, a group who did a stint on reality television as one of the finalists on “Chasing Destiny,” a female-centered program starring Kelly Rowland. In matching holiday-themed outfits and singing from ladders high above the crowd, the five lovely ladies gave the crowd synergy. They harmonized, sang a capella, performed Christmas carols, pop tracks and even rapped a little, all while keeping it sexy, classy, and tight.
Next was the man of the hour: Kells. The troubled singer has been a polarizing figure in pop culture but has no shortage of hometown pride and support. He also has no shortage of talent or fans. It was as if the entire crowd knew every word of his extensive catalogue.
He transformed the Chicago Theatre into his Christmas-decorated living room. The stage was decked out with a huge fireplace, sofas, a massive Christmas tree, a bar (complete with bartender), stockings, and gifts. Some lucky friends and fans even got to hang out on stage. All while changing fur coats multiple times, Kelly powered through older classics like “12 Play,” Your Body’s Calling” and “Bump and Grind (Remix). He also reminded us of how many hooks he’s contributed to other rapper’s songs, while giving the excited crowd snippets of features like Jay-Z’s megahit “Fiesta (Remix)” and Jeezy’s “Go Getta.”
The crowd was light on millennials but heavy on Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers. There was even a 6-year-old in there! It just further displays Kelly’s mass appeal. There was no shortage of 40-somethings OR furs in the building for the first of two nights at Chicago Theatre, so Kelly’s constant costume changes only helped to mirror his local fans.
Costuming was a deliberate part of the vibe of the show, which was most definitely a “Holiday Jam.” Beyond the festive accoutrements onstage, a huge projection screen played Christmas-themed visuals. At one point, a video played a humorous, albeit slightly confusing, comedy skit where Kelly points a gun at the audience and tells jokes. When describing the video, Kelly said during the show that he wanted to switch it up and make the night well rounded. During “Sexasaurus,” Kelly belted out Tarzan yells in front of a CGI jungle. If an R. Kelly show in Chicago is anything, it’s a hilariously good time.
The lucky people who got to enjoy the show onstage appeared to have the time of their lives. At points during the show, Kelly would address them and ensure they were having a blast. They absolutely were.
An artist with a catalogue like R. Kelly’s makes for an amazing evening of music. His discography spans decades and includes music he’s appeared on for other artists, soundtracks and DVDs.
“Trapped in the Closet” fans were there. Old School R. Kelly and Public Announcement fans were there. “I believe I Can Fly” fans were there. Chocolate Factory fans were there. Fans of spectacle were there. Even naysayers were there. But despite Kelly’s past and polarizing stature, the man remains a ridiculous talent. There was no lip-syncing. There were hardly any breaks, as hit after hit after hit was sung to perfection. He even said he was drunk at one point. How he had that much performance stamina while drunk is beyond me; he’s truly a phenomenal performer.
Tracks from his new album “12 Nights of Christmas” also sounded especially good.
“Coming Home For Christmas,” an ode to always being away from “your boo” during the holidays, sounded right on time. An artist like R. Kelly can pretty much do what he wants, and his mastery of music and command of live audiences show. There were all smiles and screams in the house, with choruses being yelled out constantly by the crowd. Every time a new track was performed, you could hear people screaming “ooooh, that’s my JAM!” and singing along at full volume. “Ignition (Remix),” “Down Low” and the goofy mega- hit “Feelin on Yo Booty” were especially well received.
R. Kelly isn’t necessarily a hometown hero, but he’s certainly one of the biggest stars Chicago has ever produced. He has longevity, power and influence with no shortage of loyal fans. He promised the Chicago Theatre a “real” show, and that’s exactly what he delivered. If his performance was any indication, R. Kelly isn’t going anywhere, and his music will be enjoyed by millions of people, forever.
“12 Nights of Christmas” is currently in stores.