McKnight reaches for inspiration.
Review and Photos by Barry BrecheisenOkay, a R&B balladeer is not my first choice to spend a Friday night with. Especially if they don't look like Alicia Keys. I anticipated a mostly female crowd but surprisingly it was 'boy meets girl' everywhere. Rolling into Milwaukee in support of his fifth studio CD, Brian McKnight warmed up the Riverside Theatre with a cloud of smoke and an electric guitar screaming out the chords to the title track, "Superhero." Is this the same guy known for mid-tempo R&B love songs and where's the piano anyway? Is he's trying to change his image or does McKnight just like to rock out once in a while like the rest of us? Usually for the less talented it's in the privacies of our showers. It proved to be a strong way to jump start the show and turn the mid-size Riverside into a stadium-rock arena.
Looking the part of the new breed of R&B, McKnight was clad in a long-sleeved red shirt, leather pants, that cast a gold glow from the lights, and way too much sass for his own good. How refreshing to see McKnight himself actually playing the solos and sing at the same time! Now, don't worry the old McKnight soon resurfaced as he sent his assistant Sly out into the crowd to pick out a special lady. "This is my favorite part of the show," Brian admitted, "because I get to bring someone up and they have no idea what I'm going to do." An intimate serenade was in store for a lucky lady calling herself Promise. It was "Stay" from his 1999 album, Back at One. You could see Promise mouthing the words as her eyes followed his every move. By the end she was wiping away her tears and holding on for dear life. There's no denying the strength in McKnight's velvety vocal chords. This is strictly a no lip-synch zone. Unless of course you count the fans in the audience. "Let me take you down memory lane," Brian announced as he began the short acoustic segment of the show. First up was the beautiful "The Way Love Goes" that appeared way back on his 1991 debut album. Followed by a soulful cover of Van Morrison's "Crazy Love." Aided with a little help of a video screen, "My Kinda Girl" wasn't without it's star studded duet. "Ladies and Gentleman, Justin Timberlake," Brian announced as the boy band idol appeared larger than life on the screen above him. Justin sung his part as McKnight backed him up on guitar. Eventually joining him on a full duet. The crowd went gaga as a pair of ladies wheeled out a beautiful black baby grand piano. "I was 15 when I started playing at this piano bar," McKnight explained as he sat down. "Right now I would like you to join me in the jazz room." Among the songs in the set was the smooth-as-butter "What's it Gonna Be" as a beautiful female horn player tooted her well...horn and danced on the upper stage ala Fosse. "Sing that shit man," a fan in the audience yelled as he got caught up in the moment. For the encore McKnight satisfied the crowd as he delivered "One Last Cry" and closed the show with the velvety "Back At One."
Although this may not have been my choice in shows there's no questioning the talent of Brian McKnight. He's been doing this for over a decade and has consistently proven he's here to stay. You don't have to trust me, he's just recently been nominated for six Grammy Awards including Best Male Pop Vocal. So whether you prefer rock, a quieter "unplugged" sound, jazz or of course R&B ballads, Brian McKnight has it all.
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