Maxwell sure knows his audience. And not just all the single ladies - many of whom were up and dancing to Beyonce's ubiquitous hit the prince of neo-soul used as his intro music Tuesday at Toyota Center - but the men who love them, or at least want to get with them. "Fellas, you can see I'm setting you up right?" he said in one of his many asides to the crowd, shortly before crooning a bit of Al Green's "Simply Beautiful." "If you can't go home with something after this, I can't do nothing for ya."
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Actually, most of the crowd was so hot and bothered by then Aftermath wouldn't be surprised if they couldn't even wait until they got home. We don't know for sure, we wouldn't be surprised if some people went to Toyota's bathrooms to take care of business and were greeted with a sight similar to this. Unheard from since 2001's Now, Maxwell is back on top of the R&B heap with new album BLACKsummers' Night, his mighty, mighty Afro and hippie threads gone in favor of a close-cropped 'do and bespoke suit that was in real danger of being torn off by the rabid fans ringing the catwalk where he spent most of the evening, occasionally diving down to get even closer. His crystalline tenor, similar to Donny Hathaway, had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the get-go, as he worked them up and over with lyrics like "I can't control the feeling/ I'ma feel you from the floor to the ceiling."
Anchored by a pair of Houston-area natives in keyboardist Robert Glasper and guitarist Hod David - at least we think Maxwell said David is from here; like a lot of the evening, it was a little hard to hear over the screams - Maxwell's deluxe band was as sensual as his lyrics. The horn section alternated chunky R&B grooves with complex vocal harmonies, and the bassist anchored the sound with a rumble that was probably audible in League City. Glasper, meanwhile, conjured lava lamps and love beads with his Blue Note-like electric piano, and David let loose with the occasional psychedelic solo amid his glassy jazz chords and patches of wah-wah funk that reminded us of every Hollywood bedroom-seduction scene we've ever seen. What better way to accompany Maxwell, sweating and singing like a less creepy R. Kelly, on spontaneous announcements like "I'ma slap it 'til it's black and blue/ 'Cause when you're in the H-town that's what you do." Hey - he said it, not us. But we have to learn how to talk like that. But they're not the words of a playa, rather someone deeply and truly in love with his subject. When Maxwell sings about "breaking you off," he means it in the most spiritual way possible. Still, come June, Aftermath wouldn't be at all surprised to see a baby bounce in Houston comparable to Hurricane Ike. Call it Hurricane Max.