Concert Review: Maxwell at the Palace Theatre

Erica Thompson

Toward the beginning of Maxwell's set at the Palace Theatre on Monday, the R&B singer inquired if any children were present. Once an adult-only audience was confirmed, he vowed to put on a "double, triple-X-rated" show. While Maxwell didn't quite deliver on that promise - a suit jacket was the only article of clothing he removed - he still brought a healthy dose of sensuality. That, combined with equal parts showmanship and social commentary, made for a terrific concert.

Maxwell savored every honey-dipped syllable on sexy songs like "Bad Habits," "Woman's Worth" and "Sumthin' Sumthin.'" After two decades in the business, his trademark falsetto is still flawless. "This is not Auto-Tune, guys" he said during the show.

The artist also flirted with the shrieking ladies in the crowd, asking if he could check into someone's hotel room. And prior to "Lake by the Ocean," the lead single from his new album, blackSUMMERS'night, he said, "Imagine an ocean, picture a lake … you're wearing a bikini and I'm naked."

But it wouldn't be a Maxwell concert without an expression of love and romance beyond sex, which he provided on songs like "Hostage," also off the new album. "You are the harvest/ Your garden helps to feed me," he sang, dedicating the piece to the married and engaged couples in the audience. The live instrumentation and harmonizing performed by Maxwell and his background singer transformed the song into something more beautiful than the recorded version.

Maxwell also molded Prince's "Nothing Compares to You" into a love letter to the late musician, performing the same rendition he offered the BET Awards last month.

In addition to expressing a wide range of emotion, Maxwell also demonstrated his ability to put on a dynamic show that kept everyone's attention - something that doesn't always come naturally to crooners. He played the role of a seasoned bandleader, showcasing each member - including a dynamite horn section - and even stepping to the side of the stage during their solos; a confident dancer who can still drop into the splits at 43 years old; and a comedian, cracking jokes throughout the night.

What especially stood out was Maxwell's excellent rapport with the audience. He touched hands, permitted a woman to grab his legs as he danced, signed an album in the middle of a song and often allowed the crowd to the sing entire choruses and verses for him. He also captured the attendees on his Snapchat account, which may have the greatest name ever: "Snapswell."

When a throng of people made the pilgrimage down the aisle to get closer to the stage, Maxwell scolded security. "Stop telling people to sit down," he said. "Let them have a good time." However, one has to wonder whether the chastisement is included in each show to add an extra bit of drama.

But there was no mistaking the seriousness of Maxwell's comments on the country's current issues of racial tension, police brutality and gun violence. "I can't believe we are all going through this again," he said. Yet he also presented a message of hope, noting, "I do believe in the spirit of America."

He appeared to indirectly address the criticism he received last week for tweeting "#humanlivesmatter" in the wake of the Dallas police shootings. Some felt that he was being insensitive to the Black Lives Matter movement. At the concert, he acknowledged the injustices faced by the African-American community, but also expressed love for "cream brothers and sisters." He referenced the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Florida and dedicated his song "Lifetime" to lives lost and "those still in jeopardy" among all ethnicities. "Because all lives matter," he said.

During the song, images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. flashed across the video screen, which displayed serene nature scenes, people and outer space at other times in the show.

Maxwell also turned the focus on himself, reflecting on his longevity in the music industry. "Thank you for making my life matter," he said.