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Baltimore Sun

Concert review: Chris Brown at Sonar last night

Baltimore Sun writer John-John Williams IV was at Chris Brown's show last night at Sonar. Here are his thoughts:

Of the dozen or so concerts I've been to this year, not one artist can hold a candle to Chris Brown when it comes to dancing—not even Beyonce. But when it comes to new music, Chris Brown is dead last.

I suspect the now infamous crooner knows it too. Why else would his Fan Appreciation Tour performance last night at Sonar feature close to a half dozen reminders to purchase his new album, "Graffiti?" His DJ at one point urged the room of mostly screaming teenage girls to buy five copies each.

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Um, no. The new cuts on "Graffiti" simply lack the wow factor of his first two albums, 2005's "Chris Brown" and 2007's "Exclusive."

Last night, Brown was on stage for a little over an hour. And even though many of his songs were lip synced, you didn't feel cheated.

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His choreography, stage presence and live singing more than made up for the pre-recorded vocals. (I suspect he relied so heavily on lip syncing so he could catch his breath.) ...

Brown began his performance by lip-syncing "I Can Transform Ya," the debut single off "Graffiti."  It sounds like the producers synthesized Brown’s vocals, added some of the sound effects from "The Transformers" movies and meshed it with Lil' Wayne's over-exposed auto-tune. But Brown rocked it with great moves and good command of the stage.

Unlike "singers" such as Britney Spears and Co. who routinely lip-sync in the name of "choreography," Brown actually burns up the stage. He is a true dancer. He can actually freestyle, and he and his crew all go full-force through steps that rival any of the moves you would see in a street battle.

Brown truly excelled when he was performing material from his first two albums. It's astonishing by just how many world class hits he's had in his relatively short career.

Speaking of which, Brown is at a weird point in his career. His voice sounds fairly boyish and immature. That was cool during his first two albums, which were pretty much bubble gum, poppy songs that parents probably didn’t think twice about their young daughters listening to. But Brown’s reputation has been severely tainted by his assault of pop star Rihanna. Couple that with his newer songs that feature lyrics about "panty-dropping" and the end result just doesn’t quite mesh.

Last night, Brown really got the crowd jamming to "Wall to Wall" from "Exclusive" and "Gimme That." He followed with other hits, including "Run It" from "Exclusive" and "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" from "Chris Brown." Even without collaborator Jordin Sparks, "No Air" was still magical. After urging the crowd to fill in and sing her parts, Brown finished up the song singing a capella to showcase his vocal range.

Brown tried to sprinkle in his newer material in between his older hits and dance sets. (On more than one occasion, Brown allowed his DJ to spit out about five minutes worth of popular R&B and Hip-Hop hits while Brown and his background dancers freestyled and did intricate choreography.)

Brown's new material just didn't resonate as much with the crowd, who had clearly not familiarized themselves with "Graffiti." The slew of fans, who minutes before were harmonizing lyrics with Brown, just stood in the crowd attempting to echo new lyrics that lacked the depth and power of his older hits. Thank goodness Brown realized this, and kept hitting us -- no pun intended -- with vintage Chris Brown chart-toppers. He launched into "Kiss, Kiss" and "With You" from "Exclusive," and "Poppin" from "Chris Brown." All the songs were well received by the sea of screaming young fans crowded around the Sonar stage.  

Brown ended the evening singing the upbeat, poppy "Forever." (Remember? It used to be featured in Double Mint gum commercials before the Rihanna assault.) It was just another reminder of how good Brown was, and how much potential he had.

(Baltimore Sun photos by Karl Merton Ferron)


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