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Live review: Maxwell at the Hollywood Bowl

The soul singer known simply as Maxwell made a lot of demands on his audience Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl.

At one point, during a long improvised bit at the end of his version of “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush, he declared, “God made us to love,” and therefore, “I don’t care what you believe as long as you believe in something bigger than yourself.”

Later, he had the crowd sing an entire verse of his song “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” as he conducted happily from center stage.

But none of Maxwell’s expectations Friday matched the magnitude (or the specificity) of the one he mentioned during “Stop the World,” which inspired one female fan to launch a pair of lacy underwear onstage.

“Does your panty color match your pedicure?” the singer wanted to know. “If not, you better go on.”

Last year Maxwell returned to the music scene after a lengthy break; he’d released his most recent album, “Now,” in 2001. A successful fall tour demonstrated that his fan base hadn’t lost its taste for Maxwell’s brainy brand of R&B, and this summer his excellent comeback disc, “BLACKsummers'night,” debuted atop Billboard’s album chart.
So you could understand his confident insistence at the Bowl: If color coordination is what Maxwell wants, color coordination is what Maxwell gets.

Still, what was most interesting about Friday’s 100-minute show was the contrast it provided with the singer’s carefully cultivated in-studio persona. On his records Maxwell tends toward lofty examinations of love’s psycho-spiritual properties; he sings about romance as an existential ideal rather than as a lived experience. There’s plenty of sex in his music — one of his early hits is called “…Til the Cops Come Knockin’” — but not much sweat.

At the Bowl, with his image blown up across several enormous video screens, Maxwell was visibly drenched in sweat before he’d finished his first song. Whirling across the stage as his 10-piece band jabbed out bumptious funk licks, he was a man more interested in the physical than in the philosophical.

That shift in concentration took a toll on Maxwell’s music, which draws its power from its precision and delicacy. “This Woman’s Work” sounded ragged and overdone, and “Pretty Wings” lacked the gorgeously ethereal quality that distinguishes the version on “BLACKsummers’night.”

“I can’t control the feeling,” he sang in the new album’s “Bad Habits,” and that was too true: Straining his voice to suit the venue’s expansive dimensions, Maxwell sacrificed the trademark sumptuousness of his studio material.

Surprisingly, though, he almost made up for it with an abundance of goofball charm, flexing an appealing side of his personality he rarely reveals on his albums. “If you ain’t slow-dancing with your girl right now, you crazy,” he said during “Fortunate.” “And if you ain’t found a girl yet, you crazier.”

Near the end of the concert, after his observation that “the prettiest babies are made from the best sex in the world,” Maxwell performed a stretch of accompanied recitative that began with a reservation at Nobu and wound up with the singer dipping his lover in soy sauce and wasabi. Why? “’Cause I like it spicy.”

Who knew?

-- Mikael Wood

Comments () | Archives (10)

Why don't you go away for 7 years and see who misses your column?
The people for whom this concert was targeted for, loved it.
I'm still partially deaf from the throngs of screams around me. People enjoying the music.

From the first note from Chrisette Michelle to Maxwell's final bow the concert delivered what we came to see--Maxwell as we remembered him-- sexy and fun.

Next Maxwell concert, you stay home. Let’s start the count now.
You won't be missed.

Mikael, I hope you are ready for the throngs of Maxwell-fanatics who will consider your review, heresy. LOL

But you gave a review from the perspective of a professional not that of a hungry fan.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but when I saw this clip of maxwell's performance at the Hollywood Bowl at 2:40 my eyes came out of their sockets!


Maxwell did that?

Of course maxwell's fans know he has sexual undertones in all that he does but when it gets to the point of it being tasteless and crude that's when some of us either love it or don't approve of it. Eating panties on stage is not something that agrees with some of us! Definitely not for me.

I appreciate Mikael Wood's thorough review.

I agree with the reviewer, it was a good show but the band was bland and Maxwells voice could have been just a tiny bit better. from 1 to 10 and 10 being best I give this show a 7.5 sorry Maxwell love you but it was what it was!

Everything in this review was true...but the important element that I think was missing, is that he was hoarse and couldn't hit the high notes. So all that sexy talk was lost on me...I didnt pay that much money for talking.

YOU are nuts!!!Every comment I have read from the fans that were in attendance, loved the concert(including me).Maybe the style of music was a little out of your league.I GUESS IT'S EASY TO BE hypercritical when you don't have to actually pay for your ticket.And What really pisses me off is that you probably had a better seat than my friends and I.Don't listen to this clown Max, we loved it. Your always welcome in L.A.

I want to start off saying I really love Maxwell and this was the fourth time I have seen him in concert and by far this was the worst performance I have ever seen! His vocals were horrible, very strained and flat. He was kind of stiff on stage, just not his self,...he said it was his "74th"? show. When he sung "Women's Work" he was so hoarse...I felt bad for him. He should have cancelled that performance...maybe better next time : (

Ok, I have to say from the reviews, Maxwell must have been hoarse the entire tour. He was hoarse when it started in Canada, he was hoarse when I saw him in Phillie and this columnist is reporting he was hoarse in LA. Personally, I love the music, but I am not in a state of even thinking i know the man to jump to his defense, but objectively speaking this tour has been lackluster from the start. I think people are seeing the Maxwell of 8 yrs ago and are so in awe that they are not LISTENING to the Maxwell of today. His voice is not on point, his stage presence is not that of a seasoned vet and to be honest, I walked out of the show after paying for the "good seats". So no, this review is not that of an fanatic, but of an objective observer doing a job. They have forums for those that believe he deserves a pass and being negative to this young lady is not going to make Maxwell's voice sound any better. Sorry

I saw him for the first time and I loved it. I am in love with his music, and his voice. And you know what I think he gave an awesome show. I loved the opening acts, COMMON rocked the house!!!! Amazing show all around, and Maxwell is very good at relating to his fans! TE AMO MAXWELL

Maxwell was AMAZING!! I can't wait till he comes back to Los Angeles.


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