There comes a time in a woman’s life when she realizes she’s reached peak adultness and/or has become her mother. That realization became apparent for me the evening of The Night Tour, starring Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton, and Joe. Walking into the Kia Forum during the sold-out Los Angeles stop of the tour, I was reminded of how much we as Black folk will show up and show out for events such as this. The venue reeked of familiarity with that one cologne everybody’s uncle wears, and the looks varied across the grown and sexy spectrum.
Much to the surprise of many, The Night Tour started on time with Joe taking the stage first. As the arena transformed into a red light special, I chuckled at the selected opening song—the chorus of “Big Rich Town,” a.k.a. the theme song for Power and Power Book II: Ghost. Similar to the transition feature on Spotify, the track subtly eased into his 2001 single, “Stutter.”
The 48-year-old crooner, wearing a metallic silver blazer over an all-black ensemble, sounded just as good live as he does on his studio albums. With the crowd in the palm of his hands, he cha-cha’d across the stage with a feisty two-step to a special “Don’t Wanna Be A Player/Still Not A Player” mashup intertwined with his compilation of hits including “Faded Pictures,” “More & More,” “The Love Scene,” “All The Things (Your Man Won’t Do),” and “I Wanna Know.”
I watched as couples in the audience, including Bobby and Alicia Etheredge-Brown and Richard and Tina Lawson, slow-danced in their seats. Groups of friends swayed arm-in-arm with one another. As the music filled the room, one woman yelled, “take it off!” and everyone else sang along.
Coming off his Verzuz high from this past Valentine’s Day, Anthony Hamilton guided fans on a less sultry journey through his catalog, as he’s known for turning his heart-wrenching pain into warm, southern comfort. The jam session, complete with a shimmy worthy of a backyard cookout dance-off, began with “Cool” and “So In Love.” Hamilton sashayed his way back and forth across the stage, gliding through a few live renditions of his notable guest features before slowing things down with “The Point Of It All” and the eternal crowd-pleaser, “Charlene.” This kept the audience alive as we all mentally prepared to be taken into Maxwell’s urban hang suite.
As the headliner, Maxwell used the entirety of the stage for his set, which resembled a half-moon in shape complete with a full band. All the Black women who surrounded me—and made up the majority of attendees—immediately jumped to their feet as the opening chords of “Sumthin’ Sumthin'” began to fill the arena. With his hair in a fully bloomed afro, much like how it was when he stole our hearts over 25 years ago, wearing black slacks and a black blazer with disco-esque details encasing the lower half, he began to dance to his own music. It was clear he was ready to have a good time and could not stop flashing his million-dollar smile, which I’m sure could have been seen way up in the nosebleed seats even without the jumbo projectors.
During his nearly two-hour set, he boogied ’til the midnight hour and dropped low to his knees and into a split, which earned him the nickname Maxwell Thee Stallion on Black Twitter. He also honored his roots as a Haitian-Puerto Rican Brooklyn boy with a brief interlude featuring his 2016 hit, “Lake By The Ocean,”
Beaming and overwhelmed with joy, he kept shouting out his friends who he noticed in the audience and blew kisses to attendees who caught his eye. He later spoke on the history of Inglewood, and took his time going through his discography while he sang from the depths of his soul. From “Lifetime,” “Fortunate,” “Bad Habits,” and “Pretty Wings” to a special cover of Heatwave’s “Always and Forever” and newer songs like “OFF,” there was something for all of the multigenerational guests who sang every word—whether they were prompted to or not.
As his show came to an end, the sensual crooner rounded things out with an acoustic opening to 1996’s “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” By this moment, the entire arena turned into a massive house party, because is there really a better ending than the single intended to “keep the groove in motion?” He penned this song at 21 years old because he admittedly wanted to make music for grown folks, and did just that. So, if you were ever wondering how he went from VIBE Next to being one of the leaders of the neo-soul movement, and why his music has aged so well, there’s your answer.