Not just an opening act
A year or two ago, while freelancing for The Dallas Morning News, I reviewed a show that featured Maze and some hot diva-of-the-moment--I believe it was Whitney Houston--and I expressed a bit of irritation with the fact that the bill had been reversed from its advertised order: Houston (or whoever) had gone on before Maze, which occupied the headline slot. Hoo boy. Judging from the angry letters and pissed-off phone calls I received afterward, Maze--which started off as the Butlers in the mid-'70s in Philadelphia--has an extremely loyal fan base built up over more than 20 years and 30-some charting songs in the business.

Although they've had only two No. 1 R&B hits in that time (1985's "Back in Stride" and 1989's "Can't Get Over You"), Maze--helmed by Marvin Gaye acolyte Frankie Beverly since the band's long-ago move to the West Coast and name change--has built a solid following based on a string of mid-level hits like "Southern Girl" (1980) and the aptly named "Silky Soul" (1989). Songs like "Running Away" and "Joy and Pain" reveal the band to have an ability with funked-up dance-floor fillers; gentle, romantic ballads; and lover-man soul. Beverly's love of Gaye is reflected not only in his soaring voice--as smooth as massage oil--but his willingness to tackle deeper issues, as he does on "Freedom (South Africa)" and his enduring "Mandela." Although they have begun lately to integrate more electronic and even hip-hoppish flavors into their sound, for years Maze and Beverly held the line for slick, uptempo, urban soul. Although one of their more recent hits was 1994's "What Goes Up," Frankie Beverly and Maze show no signs of coming down.

--Matt Weitz

Frankie Beverly and Maze play Starplex on Saturday, September 13.

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Matt Weitz