Last Night: El DeBarge, Eric Benét, and Fantasia at the Verizon Theatre

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El DeBarge, Eric Benét, Fantasia
Verizon Theatre
December 2, 2010

Better than: being bilked out of one's hard-earned cash by fraudulent Christian faith healer Jonas Nightengale during one of his big tent revival meetings...  

A few times a year, I find it both incredibly enlightening and immensely entertaining to pick a show to attend where I know very little about the artists involved, and next to nothing about their collective catalogs. Going to a concert without any preconceived ideas or expectations of what might occur allows one to gain a different perspective of the music involved, of the artists themselves, of the concert experience as a whole, and, oftentimes, of entire segments of the population.

For the same reason I found it fascinating to get drenched in Faygo while taking in an ICP show earlier this summer, I was really excited to check out El DeBarge, Eric Benét, and Fantasia last night at Verizon Theatre.

This was a trio I knew very little. Well, other than this: Fantasia was at one time on American Idol and maybe won it; Benét has a name that gets placed in tabloids because he's a former sex addict and possible domestic abuser to Halle Berry; and El DeBarge got his start singing in a group with his siblings. Other than the DeBarge hit, "I Like It", which is one of my all-time favorite jams, I knew next to nothing of the rest of the acts' collective catalogs or what to expect.

And as it turned out, being a youngish white guy at a concert tailored almost entirely to middle-aged African-American women was kind of awesome.

Unlike ICP's army of juggalo fans, this crowd came dressed to the nines last night -- as did the performers really. Dressed in a purplish suit and alligator shoes, DeBarge pranced around the stage, effortlessly commanding the swooning audience with little more than the support of glorified karaoke-grade backing tracks. Pacing back and forth across the stage, smooth talking between and sometimes during songs, and shaking hands with eager ladies in the front row, I found the scene to be vaguely reminiscent of Steve Martin's performance in Leap of Faith. Only, instead of talking about Jesus or donations, he was rattling off the sexiest shit imaginable.

All the while, his singing-style rarely strayed beyond the highest/clearest falsetto I've ever heard. It was quite impressive, to say the least, and not in the least bit wearisome over time in the way that, say, a Michael Angelakos can become. Not surprisingly, DeBarge ended his set with an abridged version of "I Like It."

Benét's performance did very little for me musically, but it was intriguing nonetheless to watch the way he and the crowd interacted. His stage presence was very similar to DeBarge's in a way that was both strangely spiritual and very sexual. When he'd hit a rather impressive note the women in the crowd would rise to their feet, throw back their heads, and throw a hand in the air as if to give him an "amen."

The crowd also liked to sing. And by sing, I mean to say that they'd really belt it out. When more popular songs were performed by any of the artists throughout the night, it was as if they'd hired a backing band consisting of a couple thousand Beyonces.

Strangely, this was far less annoying than that one guy who always manages to stand directly behind you at an indie rock show, not quite in-tune as he shouts at the words seemingly directly into your ear. In fact, it was quite the opposite really, coming off as more a collective experience, a mass of people all sharing in the same good time.

This all ramped up to Fantasia, whose live sound unexpectedly managed to surpass that of her far more-experienced opening acts. Her band looked stunning in matching white coats and tails, and sounded even better with a full horn section rounding out the already impressive live sound.

She dazzled with an imposing set of pipes while performing a set almost exclusively comprised of material I'd never heard.

But, for me, the night really wasn't about specifics or familiarity of surroundings at all. Rather, it was about having a uniquely enjoyable evening experiencing a concert in ways which I never had previously.

Which as it turns out is kind of awesome.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
None, as I said before.

By The Way: I've never been to a concert where a spontaneous dance competition went down in one of the aisles between sets. No exaggeration, most of the place was on its feet cheering the dancers on, and a couple times after particularly sassy moves the crowd whooped and cheered nearly as loud as they did for the opening acts.

Random Note: At one point during Benét's set, my wife, who rarely curses, turned to me and said, "This guy is one cocky son of a bitch," and I had to admit he kind of was. Before last night, I had never seen a non-headliner attempt the whole leaving the stage for a fake encore thing. Even more shameful, when he came back out for his last song, his shirt was unbuttoned and he spent much of the time down in the front rows grabbing women's cameras and taking pictures of himself before handing them back.

Another Random Note: I always forget how great Verizon is. Aside from a semi-horrendous parking situation they've got going on over there, they really do have one of the nicer venues around. They really manage to pull of the feel of a big arena show in a setting that is exponentially more intimate, yet just as comfy. To use the old cliché, there is not a bad seat anywhere in the house.

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