Live review: Chris Brown at the Avalon
Chris Brown had already pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna earlier this year. But Wednesday night at the Avalon, in his first local performance since being sentenced to probation and community service in the February altercation in L.A., Brown still seemed to be offering up character witnesses in an attempt to prove, as he insists in a widely circulated YouTube video, that he's no monster.
First up was Keri Hilson, who appeared not long into Brown's hourlong set and sang her hit "Turnin' Me On." Hilson was followed by Ester Dean, whose song "Drop It Low" features a cameo from Brown. Later, the singer introduced a medley of Michael Jackson covers as a homage to his "homie, friend and loved one." And near the end of the show, during "No Air," Brown even pressed squeaky-clean "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks into service, trading verses with Sparks' recorded voice in a duet that has surely taken on new meaning in Brown's mind over the last nine months of smothering media scrutiny.
If the female-heavy crowd at the Avalon was serving as Brown's jury, the testimonials had their desired effect: This was precisely the sort of adoring audience Brown presumably intended to draw by calling his current trek, which launched last week in Houston, the Fan Appreciation Tour. The singer made no mention of the Rihanna incident; instead, he repeatedly announced that he was in the mood to party.
The mood to sing struck him only intermittently -- like Sparks' phantom performance in "No Air," some of Brown's vocals at the Avalon issued from a hard drive. At several points, he left the singing to other acts entirely, as when he instructed his DJ to play "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas. For a minute or so, Brown's concert consisted of watching the star dance around onstage to one of his favorite songs.
That wasn't necessarily a bad deal: Brown is a thrilling dancer, perhaps the finest of his generation, and Wednesday he moved with an elegance that he'd failed to muster when talking (or not talking) about Rihanna in recent interviews. His Jackson tribute in particular demonstrated his uncommon ability to endow crude sexual thrusts with a sort of gentlemanly polish, and as he executed a perfect moonwalk during "Billie Jean," you could see Brown imagining himself reversing through time in order to undo an act he has said he wishes he could take back.
(He conjured a less penitent image during the
unfortunately titled "Take You Down," when he tore off a black tank top and
revealed a sculpted physique that evoked notions of power and
Brown closed the show with an exuberant version of his 2008 hit "Forever," but before he sang the song he reminded the audience that a portion of the concert's proceeds was headed to Best Buddies, a charity for people with developmental disabilities. His message seemed carefully constructed, a bridge to a moment in the future less loaded with subtext and implication.
"You're helping them out," he said. "Not me. Them."
Photo credits: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times