Vandross offers uneven evening of love songs


Before launching into his cover of "If Only For One Night," Luther Vandross asked a rapt Capital Centre audience last night, "Do you like love songs?"

Of course they did, and when he told them that they had come to the right place for them, he won the truth-in-advertising award.

Just as you go to Cal Ripken for base hits, you go to Luther Vandross for music to set a romantic mood.

That's what Vandross does and that's all that he does and it is both his blessing and his curse, as evidenced in last night's largely uneven 105-minute performance.

Vandross' voice is as smooth as freshly opened peanut butter and a lot less fattening.

When that gorgeous baritone is attacking classic ballads like "If Only For One Night" or "Superstar," where the anxiety of the lyrics and the anguish of his pleadings combine, Vandross is a joy to behold.

He was on the very top of his art on "A House Is Not A Home," the big ballad of his career, as the thunder of a passing storm seemed to boom its approval from outside.

And his six-piece band, led by longtime collaborator Nat Adderly Jr., was impeccable, nearly replicating the arrangements from Vandross' albums.

But, as more than one fan said in casual conversation before he went on, Vandross' more recent works have tailed off in quality to the point that they are more sold in concert than presented and thus savored.

In fact, for all of the angst that Vandross proclaims in his lyrics, he is more showman than balladeer, almost to the point of distraction, especially with an overused echo effect and a growl that allegedly comes from the gut and elicits a few screams from women but doesn't advance the songs.

Still, when it works, there are few better than Vandross, and his closing number, "Power of Love/Love Power," his best single in the last five years, was a brilliant cap, with punctuation by the Sounds of Blackness, one of two opening acts.

Sounds, a Minneapolis ensemble, was a revelation, kicking off the evening with an all-too-brief but fierce reading of their debut album, "The Evolution of Gospel."

In 30 minutes, the 17-member choir offered its interpretation of the gospel in a way that did not demean the sacred form, but took fine advantage of a secular forum.

Their arrangement of Sly and The Family Stone's "Stand" was exceptional, and their "Optimistic," the album's first single and one of the best singles of the year, was probably the highlight of the evening.

The excellence of the group stood in stark opposition to the oafish comedian Sinbad, who bridged the Sounds of Blackness and Vandross.

Between his clownish appearances on TV's "A Different World" and "Showtime at The Apollo," and those moronic sneaker commercials, Sinbad seems to be everywhere these days. Given the staleness of his act, you just wished he hadn't been in Landover last night.

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