The Irrational Confidence Field Report is a series in which your intrepid authors feel the need to share the gritty details from the front lines of pop culture.
I am fascinated by Robert Kelly. Aziz Ansari describes R. Kelly as “…a brilliant musician-slash-crazy person,” and when a man with that calibur of voice can make money referring to himself as a “sexasaurus” as he does on his song The Zoo, I’m inclined to agree with this assessment. He has so much soul in his voice, but uses it to create some of the most insane lyrics I’ve ever heard. “Girl you remind me of my jeep?” Really? So when I heard that R. Kelly was going to be performing in Dallas, I called up a few fellow enthusiasts and we headed to the show. What follows is my notes on the full R. Kelly Experience.
- The first thing I noticed was there was a secret dress code for the show. The people seated around Adam and me were dressed as if they had come to the symphony rather than an R&B show. I felt out of place in my jeans and Childish Gambino t-shirt.
- R. Kelly started his set behind a white curtain at the top of a staircase. He announced that he was going to huff and puff and blow our minds tonight. Each time, he mimed blowing and the curtain ruffled with staged wind. It set the stage for how ridiculous this was about to get.
- On each side of the stage there was a bar, complete with bartenders. They sat there and made drinks the entire show. I wondered what it would take to get that gig, to go on tour with R. Kelly as his stage bartender. A few songs in, several girls who I’m sure paid FAR more money than I did for their tickets were brought on stage and got to watch the show from the bars.
- Kells did pretty much every song he’s ever made or been a part of. If he had done a hook on a song you remember, he sang that hook at the show. Cassidy’s “Hotel”? Check. Twista’s “So Sexy”? Check. He even did the chorus from Nick Cannon’s “Gigolo”! Don’t feel bad if you forgot about that song. I think Nick Cannon is more than fine with that song fading from the public memory.
- He did “Real Talk”! If you haven’t heard that track, where R. Kelly sings a phone call between him and his girlfriend who is accusing him of cheating, you are in for a treat. I thought that it would be an impossible song to do live, but he did it a capella and it was the best.
- Despite doing every song ever, he almost never finished the song or did the entire song. R. Kelly was like a college kid in control of the iPod at a party.
- Near the beginning, R. Kelly (in the sing-talking style he’s near famous for) announced that he was going to make sure to swear because the venue had told him not to. “It’s sexier if you curse,” he claimed. “These people paid for R. Kelly and R. Kelly swears!” He then launched into every curse word he could think of and it was clear that 1. The venue actually did tell him not to curse, and 2. This was a protest that he was making up as he went along.
- He never just spoke. He was always singing. It was like a bad improv class.
- I am apparently the world’s worst R. Kelly fan. Kells is a master of the “hold the mic out to the audience and let them sing” technique. No matter what song it was or where he stopped, the entire crowd was able to finish the song for him. I just didn’t have that encyclopedic knowledge of R. Kelly lyrics.
- At the midpoint of the show, R. Kelly announced that we wouldn’t know this next song, because it wasn’t on any of his albums. It was an opera song. Apparently R. Kelly got his start singing opera and that’s what stretched out his voice to the point it’s at now. It was incredible. Lost in R. Kelly’s showmanship and his relative insanity is just how good his voice is. He’s an incredible artist. Watch the 30 for 30 documentary Benji. When R. Kelly talks about singing at his high school teammate’s funeral and begins to sing the gospel song that he sang that day, it’s heartbreaking.
- That being said, I understand it’s hard to take a man with a diamond-studded microphone and a flashing LED jacked that reads “V.I.ME” across the back and “Single Ladies” down the sleeves seriously.
- After the opera is when things got weird. R. Kelly leaves the stage, the lights all go out and over the sound system, you hear Kells saying “I’m in the audience. I’m right next to you. You can’t see me girl? I’ve been doing this for 26 years and you don’t recognize me? Where am I? Search for me. Find me.” Spotlights search the crowd for R. Kelly. He appears in the crowd and starts singing to a woman. He brings her onstage, and while what happens next makes it clear that she’s a plant, they have her sign a waiver. R. Kelly is committed to this bit. They lock the girl up in a cage with R. Kelly and throw a sheet over the cage. They turn out the lights, spotlight the cage, and shadows start pantomiming graphic acts. Adam, Mark and I were floored. Our jaws dropped and we yelled “Is this really happening?” before bursting into laughter over the sheer ridiculousness of what we were seeing.
- R. Kelly followed this up with R. Kelly Karaoke. Stagehands brought out mics to point to the audience. The crowd was encouraged to sing along to the R. Kelly tracks that were playing over the sound system while Kells sat down and had a drink at the bar. “It’s your turn to entertain me,” was the direction we were given. I think R. Kelly is the best audience participation act ever.
- He brought the show home with the gospel music. He sang a song he dedicated to his mother and then segued that into “I Believe I Can Fly”. Not only was it the high point of the evening due to vocal prowess and the gravitas of his stage presence, but it really made me remember how great a movie Space Jam is. If you’re still with me, go watch Space Jam.
If you’ve ever had the inclination to go see R. Kelly, GO SEE R. KELLY. He’s a master of the stage, he’s a rare vocal talent, and he’s absolutely insane. These things put together make for one of the best concert spectacles I’ve been a part of. You won’t be disappointed.