Kelly's seductive sound thrills fans, angers protesters


March 19, 2006


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.

Sexual metaphors

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 him.

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.

'Get a hobby'

Concertgoers were 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.

Show 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 Closet."

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 the spectacle.

"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."