Superflies

R&B royalty roll out for Budweiser Superfest

Well, it's that time again.
As far as R&B summer package tours go, the Budweiser Superfest stands as the king of them all. Now in its 20th year, the Superfest has been crisscrossing the country, serving up popular soul and rap to regional audiences. Everyone from Kool & The Gang to LL Cool J to R. Kelly has taken turns performing at the Superfest show.

Since there are many package tours that appeal to the urban (read: Kool-Aid-drinking) music fan, the roster for this show is on the lean side. But the folks at Budweiser still managed to land a quintet of remarkable, romantic and, shall we say, manly acts.

Here's the lineup:
The O'Jays, Gerald Levert: The comedian Cedric the Entertainer did an amusing riff on what it must've been like growing up in the Levert household. There's big daddy Eddie, who -- in that baritone of his -- sings a command to his son, the equally boisterous Gerald, to clean up his room. The result: sweet shouting matches that all the honey-lemon tea in the world couldn't repair.

Between Eddie and Gerald, you've got the king and prince of deep-voiced soul. For half a century, Eddie Levert Sr. has led the O'Jays right into R&B greatness. The band's 1972 double-platinum masterpiece Back Stabbers unleashed the Philadelphia Sound, conceptualized by writer-producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, unto an unsuspecting listening public. And they loved it. Other great albums (Ship Ahoy, Family Reunion) and even greater songs ("Love Train," "For the Love of Money") followed. Then Eddie passed down his gift to Gerald, and he took off with it, forming and performing with his singing trio Levert (which includes his son, Sean) as well as kicking it on his own solo projects. Today, both men write, produce and perform on each other's albums. Eddie and his O'Jays cronies may have been singing about a "Family Reunion" back in the day, but he and his son have turned it into an empire.

Jesse Powell: The boy has gotten all chesty! His latest album, 1998's 'Bout It, has brought about an Usher-size image overhaul. He's all up in the videos half-butt-nekkid, sexing up half-butt-nekkid ladies. It's a shame, really. His 1995 self-titled debut was wondrous, sparkling and, most of all, able to bring out Powell's sensuality from within. His work on his debut revealed naked emotion, the kind his sophomore effort hardly touches on. And he didn't have to get half-butt-nekkid to prove anything, either. Powell should know he's powerful and confident enough as a performer to keep his damn shirt buttoned.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly: It's 1978. You've put red lights on all the lamps in the living room. You've twisted the cap off a lovely bottle of Thunderbird. You and your Afro-puffed, bell-bottomed lady are about to engage in some Quiet Stormin'. But wait a minute. You forgot one thing. Music. Now, she has already listened to your Isley Brothers collection. Putting on Teddy Pendergrass might be too bold. You can slap on the Ohio Players, but she might think you're an Age of Aquarius freak. But what about that album you just brought today, Maze's Golden Time of Day? You take the vinyl disc out of its album sleeve, place it on the turntable, slowly drop the needle down and just let Frankie and his boys bring out the happy feelin's.

That's just the kind of nostalgic vibe you get when you listen to this wonderful group. More than 20 years in the biz, and this band, led by the peerless, Philly-born Beverly, can still pipe out some outstanding soul.

Even if you weren't there to remember when, you can't help but let this band take you back to a simpler time. And the great thing about its music is that it never sounds dated. Even the band's most spirited classics, "Happy Feelin's," "Golden Time of Day" and "We Are One," sound as crisp and sharp as they did when your mom and pop used to get their freaks on, up in the den, on the davenport, on the carpet... let's not go there.

Next: Oh, these damn boys. You gotta admire their chutzpah. "I wonder if she can tell I'm hard right now? hmmm," one of them says at the beginning of the group's biggest hit, "Too Close." We've certainly come a long way from the sensitive song stylings, which have been the norm for R&B singing groups like the Temptations and The Four Tops up to New Edition and Boyz II Men. But what the hell you expect these days? The brothas who form singing groups today are aggressive men, obviously well heeled in the Jodeci School of Roughneck Harmonizing, who want their lovin' now or not at all. (Houston R&B group Ideal currently has a single out called "Get the Hell On." What the?...) So forgive this Twin Cities trio for coming on too strong with to-the-point numbers like "Penetration," "Taste So Good" and the self-explanatory "Sexitude." Just like all the other performers in this testosterone-charged Superfest lineup, they are gonna do whatever they can to satisfy the ladies. And get tha draws!

The Budweiser Superfest, featuring the O'Jays, Gerald Levert, Jesse Powell, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and Next will take place on Monday, July 5, at the Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $46.50 and $51.50. Call (713)629-3700.

 
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