Despite a series of embarrassing legal issues and odd behavior, R. Kelly remains a powerful and relevant figure in the ever-changing R&B music world—which means it was no surprise that his show at Fantasy Springs on Saturday night, May 23, was nearly sold out.
His live show was full of surprises—not all of them good surprises.
R. Kelly took the stage about 45 minutes late. When the lights shut off, and his DJ started the intro, a curtain opened—revealing what looked like a bar complete with an actual bartender, tables, chairs and lamps. Some members of R. Kelly’s entourage were out in the audience recruiting ladies to stand on the stage and fill the bar space. The video wall showed images of the Chicago skyline—referencing R. Kelly hometown.
R. Kelly eventually appeared, sending the mostly female audience into screams and howls. For what seemed like 20 minutes, he appeared to be singing and rapping. However, he would move the mic away from his mouth—to stick his arms in the air or encourage a louder ovation from the audience—and the lyrics would still be playing.
During a break between songs, he said, “Welcome to the Black Panties Show.” He then asked how many ladies were wearing black panties; asked if ladies were wearing panties in other colors; and then asked how many were wearing no panties at all—which, of course, got the loudest ovation. Then he asked, “How many people have made love to my music?” followed by, “How many people have fucked to my music?” He told people it was all right to have no shame, because, “I’ve done it to my own music. I have three kids off my own shit.”
There were strange moments throughout the show. At one point, he was freestyle-singing about how he wanted someone to wipe his face with the towel he was holding. He bent down in front of the stage and gave the towel to some lady, who wiped and caressed his face as he sang her directions on how to wipe his face.
It got even weirder when R. Kelly recited a poem he called “Poetic Sex.” He talked about what he wanted to do with a woman, referencing a g-spot, getting her “wet like an aquarium” and moving her “up and down on my elevator.” He ended the poem saying: “My lyrics got a big dick, and I just fucked the shit out of y’all.”
All night, R. Kelly engaged with female members of the audience in odd ways. He let one woman sing the chorus to one of his songs, and then declared she was “singing off key like a motherfucker.” He told one lady, “Here, hold this,” and let her hold his mic as he played with the cigar he held throughout the show. He then took a drink of water; meanwhile, the lady began rambling something into the microphone. When he took it back, he said, “Thank you for whatever the fuck you were saying. I don’t know what it was, but I appreciate it.”
At one point, he wandered off stage while a video played of him getting drunk in the recording studio and talking about the flavor of the kettle chips he was eating. When he came back out, he was wearing a poncho that looked like a black towel with a hole cut in the middle of it. This was when he actually began to sing—and it sounded as if his vocal power is not what it once was, as he sang “Trapped in the Closet,” “Bump and Grind,” and “Your Body’s Callin’.”
During the final part of his show, he went into the audience and sang a couple of songs. He ended the show by looking at his watch and saying, “My time is up,” thanking the audience for supporting him for more than 20 years, and telling everybody to drive safe.
I’ve seen a variety of hip-hop performers and R&B singers in concert, and they often go to great theatrical lengths to make shows more entertaining—but R. Kelly’s actions often seemed awkward and overly ego-driven rather than entertaining.
But what do I know? Most of crowd loved it, screaming for him from beginning to end.