AUSTIN, Texas -- "This is
ladies' night for me," R. Kelly said early in his performance at the
University of Texas' Bass Concert Hall on Friday, the seventh stop on his
Light It Up Tour, which comes to the Chicago Theatre on April 26.
Once the self-proclaimed
"Pied Piper of R&B," now billing himself as "Mr. Showbiz," the Chicago
superstar was in his suave lothario mode when he made that declaration of
love to the women in the nearly sold-out 2,800-seat venue.
But it wasn't long
before the singer was tossing out odd sexual metaphors while performing "Sex
in the Kitchen" and "The Jungle"; slapping an imaginary lover and feigning
rough sex with her, or pretending to be wracked by an orgasm so intense that
he passed out and had to be carried from the stage.
"They told me to contain
myself, and 'no touching yourself there,' " Kelly said as he pointed to his
groin. "But I know you want me to be myself and do my show."
By the standards of many
R&B tours, which are often rated R, or Kelly's past excursions, which have
been strictly NC-17, this was PG-13 stuff. Yet as he awaits trial, it is
difficult to separate anything this artist does from the charges against
The Sun-Times has
reported that Kelly has used his position of fame and influence as a pop
star to have sexual relationships with underage girls. In June 2002, he was
indicted on charges of child pornography after the newspaper received a
videotape that prosecutors say shows him having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
reminded of this controversy as they filed into the venue.
"We love R&B, not child
pornography," chanted 15 members of a group called Feminists of Color
United. The UT students also handed out leaflets listing the charges against
Kelly and statistics for sexual assaults against women of color.
"His arrogance isn't
wasted on us -- that he's touring and singing about sex while these charges
are unresolved," said Courtney Desiree Morris, a graduate student in
anthropology who led the protest.
The group was greeted
with reactions that ranged from indifference to mild hostility. "Get a
hobby; it's just music!" one concertgoer shouted.
Indeed, Kelly seems to
have designed this tour to remind his audience of his many artistic
accomplishments during a career with 40 million albums sold.
keeps focus on singing
For the first time in
the new millennium, Kelly is performing with a live band -- including three
keyboards, drums, bass and three backing vocalists -- on a minimal stage
that keeps the focus on his singing, which has rarely sounded better.
The artist cycled
through almost three dozen hits, including some produced for other artists,
offering a verse and a chorus of each during long medleys that could have
been one sweet-sounding stream of pillow talk. Yet it was never too long
before the seduction was interrupted by a detour into the Twilight Zone.
There were the weird
animal noises in "The Jungle." There was "Feelin' on Yo Booty" delivered in
the style of an Italian tenor, complete with opera cloak and top hat. And,
strangest of all, there were the opening chapters of "Trapped in the
Here, Kelly burst out of
a set that seemed to be borrowed from a high school play, then lip-synched
to tapes of his lurid "ghetto opera" while interacting with imaginary
characters only he could see. One middle-aged concertgoer shook her head at
"Sometimes I don't know
where the brother is coming from," the Texas fan said. "But I don't care
what those girls outside [the protesters] say -- I like his music."