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Concert review: Maxwell at 1st Mariner Arena

Midnight Sun contributor John-John Williams IV was at Maxwell's show last night at 1st Mariner Arena. Here are his thoughts:

Maxwell ended the American leg of "The BLACKsummer'snight Tour" last night at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore, and he left it all on the stage. The neo-soul crooner sure knows how to leave a crowd satisfied.

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Maxwell's "BLACKsummer'snight" was one of the most anticipated albums of this year -- and for good reason.

After all, the Brooklyn native was one of the main artists along with Lauryn Hill who became the face of the neo-soul movement of the mid-to-late '90s. Sure, there have been tons of suitors since then -- Anthony Hamilton, Raheem DeVaughn, and even the uber-successful John Legend. But none have been able to knock Maxwell off of his often vacant throne ...

While crooners like Legend have been a little bit more subtle in their songs about love making -- he sure was during his performance a couple months back at Merriweather Post Pavilion -- Maxwell all but slaps you in the face with it.

What amazes you about Maxwell is that he is such a sensual showman. Who knew? Maybe that's something he has developed during the eight-year hiatus since his last album "Now."

During "Bad Habits," a single from "BLACKsummer'snight," the veteran crooner did James Brown splits and thrusted, and swiveled his hips to taunt the audience with his sex appeal. Later during the evening, he slapped the microphone stand as if to mimic slapping a rear end. He even made sure the crowd saw him sniff a pair of thongs that were thrown onto the stage by a fan.

"How many of ya'll trying to get some booty after the show?" he yelled to the shrieking crowd in between songs. "Well you came to the right place tonight."

It was a new personality and a new style for Maxwell, who no longer has his signature curly afro a la Lenny Kravtiz circa early '90s. Now, Maxwell rocks a closely tapered cut. A "Men in Black suit" and tie completed the stylish look last night.

In addition to singing crowd favorites, "Sumthin' Sumthin," "This Woman's Work," and "Fortunate," Maxwell's concert featured an elaborate set design. His Y-shaped stage reminded me of something I would expect to see at a top-tier music awards show.

At the end of each prong of the stage, a trapped door allowed Maxwell to disappear into the underground tunnel below and emerge from the other side. It was a very hot feature that Maxwell utilized several time during the evening. It kept the crowd guessing, and always resulted in piercing screams from unsuspecting fans.

Rapper Common also gave a spirited hour-long performance that featured a slew of his hits, such as "The Light" and "I Want You," some intense free-styling to various old school rap tracks by artists such as The Notorious B.I.G and Biz Markie, backup vocals by crooner Bilal and even a stretch where Common popped and locked and break danced.

Maxwell wasn't the only one taking advantage of his magnetism during the concert. Common drew shrieks, screams, and cat calls from the audience while he delivered a rap serenade to a fan that included him stroking her face and kissing her on the lips -- twice.

Maxwell didn't kiss any fans on the lips -- on stage at least, but he blew plenty of kisses to the crowd at the end of his nearly two-hour set. He also showed a lot of class when he passed the microphone to each of his musicians and backup singers so that each one could say his or her name and hometown. It was a nice touch from neo-soul royalty.

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