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Mama Mia

Our blushing Nightfly takes his Catholic mom to see R. Kelly

The ticket says 8 p.m., but it's rapidly approaching half past the hour. We've been at Jones Hall since a quarter after seven, and my mom is getting fidgety. "They shouldn't print 8 p.m. on the ticket if they don't mean it," she says firmly, like the dutiful Caucasian schoolteacher she is. "This is how concerts work, Mom," my twin brother and I assure her.

It doesn't help.

"Not any concert I've ever been to," she huffs, just before mentioning that Steve Miller went on exactly as scheduled at last year's rodeo, that Mamma Mia!in Vegas started promptly, and that there was no waiting around at the Broadway musical 42nd Street.

But R. Kelly isn't a Milquetoast play based on the music of ABBA. He's an R&B thug, not a Space Cowboy. And, although he could wear the title "Gangster of Love" proudly while loving your peaches and shaking your trees, nothing about his oversexed, Hennessy-soaked persona hints that he really cares all that much about being punctual.

Still, Moms is looking around the still-half-empty theater with stern disapproval.

R. Kelly has two publicists. Allan Mayer handles all matters legal and, as such, is the first guy you'll need to talk to if you even want to think about getting close to R&B's self-described Pied Piper. Three weeks ago, I placed a call to Kelly's label, Jive, and was rerouted to Mayer for clearance. I made my pitch, saying I wanted to pen a story that would argue that Kells was music's greatest living artist (see "Feel This Man," March 9). I tried to assure him that I have no interest in delving too deeply into the child pornography charges leveled against his client. Mayer, it's important to note, represented Halle Berry after her well-publicized hit-and-run incident a few years back and Paula Poundstone during her own allegations of child sex abuse. If you're a star in peril, chances are Mayer is in your Rolodex.

After passing the test, I was given the number of Kelly's publicist publicist, Regina Daniels, whom astute R. Kelly listeners may recognize as a name the "R" shouts out while the music fades on "Step in the Name of Love." She quickly passed the buck back to Jive, who passed it right back to Daniels. Tired, I decided to give up my quest of getting my mother backstage to have a picture taken with Kelly for this here article. Oddly, I felt more relieved than disheartened or frustrated. Perhaps this is because, secretly, I was worried about the emotional stress it would cause if my musical hero said something crude to my mother, smacked her ass or grabbed her titty – all likely scenarios.

But that might have been better than where we are now, sitting squarely on a quarter till nine, with Moms getting increasingly irate with every passing second.

Suddenly, thankfully, the lights go out, the crowd goes wild, and several loud knocks come over the PA, followed by footsteps. The stage is black, save for an illuminated staircase in the center. Just as the crowd is reaching a fever pitch and stragglers are allowed to wander in and take their seats, Kelly appears, only his fedora, gloves and tie visible in the darkness, lit up á la The Electric Cowboy. "Houston! Y'all ready for a show!?" Kelly asks.

We are. What follows is a solid hour and a half of the greatest, funniest, weirdest and – considering my mother is sitting to my right – most embarrassing show I've ever witnessed.

To pick out a most memorable moment would be impossible.

Is it, for instance, during the breakdown of his hit "The Greatest Sex," when he makes mention that he really knows how to "throw that D" while graphically grabbing his crotch? "I'm not braggin', but when I get in that bedroom I just know what the fuck I'm do-who-a-in'!" he sings. "How many of you give that good sex?" The crowd erupts. "Now, not all of you can be that good. Some of you muthafuckas is lyin'!"

Or is it when he dons a cape, top hat, conductor's wand and Phantom of the Operamask to lead an opera version of "Feelin' on Your Booty," during which a young girl seated behind me keeps repeating, "He so stupid"?

Or is it when he lights two candles, sits down on the staircase and begins texting on his celly, his thumb-typed words echoing over the PA, "Girl, I decided to text you to tell you I want to sex you"? The message goes on to explain what he has planned for their night of pleasure in such detail, I feel my cheeks warm as I wonder what my very Catholic mother must be thinking.

Or is it when he humps the PA speaker rapidly with such violent force he collapses, and two security guards pull his lifeless body across the length of the stage into the wings?

One of the moments that elicits the most applause is just after the third costume change. The curtains close while the band plays in hushed tones. Upon opening, they reveal a set change, only a closet door standing in the middle of the stage. The band begins playing the lone piano and raindrop drumbeat of "Trapped in the Closet." Shit goes bananas.

Kells, as on the MTV Video Awards, opts to lip-synch the dialogue of the first three chapters, getting a hearty chuckle from the crowd while playing the words of gay character Chuck to hyper-feminine effect. The laughter makes me think of a young man I met while in line for a drink. After talking for a few minutes, we introduced ourselves, and he reluctantly and cautiously told me he was named Chuck. "Oh, like the–" I got out before he cut me off. "Yeah, yeah. It's been a muthafucka!" he said.

Speaking of mothers, despite a set heavy on sex, mine is having a wonderful time. She dances in the aisle, waves her arm "from side to side" when prompted, moves her body like a snake and can't take her eyes off an unfortunate overweight girl in the lower prom who's spilling out of her too-tight half-dress. Our next date is either Ghostface Killah or Rudy Ray Moore. We've yet to decide.

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