Amerie Headlines Night of Amazing Amateur Talents at RnB Live”
An Event Evaluation by A. Scott Galloway
There is something to be said for doing something a long time and getting it right. That is the powerful sense I felt last Wednesday night at Greg & Felipe’s weekly “RnB Live Hollywood” residency in North Hollywood at the space known as Romanov Restaurant Lounge (12229 Ventura Blvd.).
To be perfectly honest, I came just to catch up with singing star Amerie. What I got was a seamless thread of back-to-back entertainment on every conceivable level one could hope for with the very best in lighting, sound and decor. I can’t comment on food or cocktails (I sampled neither this night though the comedian clowned the prices as high), but the atmosphere, music, visuals and all-around entertainment factors were consistently pleasurable on an above average level. For somebody who is not a “hang out at the club” kind of person, I am pleased to report that the quality time I spent at RnB Live this night was a pleasant surprise.
Let’s begin with DJ E.R., who masterfully calibrated the mood of the evening with tasteful yet hard-hitting R&B, hip hop from the present back through the `90s (he even slid in some vintage 1973 Quincy Jones with “Summer in the City” – mad props). His segues were smooth, his execution laser precise and when he scratched, it was smoothly rhythmic – never jarring – and a complete compliment to whatever groove he was experimenting with.
Next I must compliment the ladies of the wait staff – all sistas, all lovely and all with sincerely helpful demeanors. Just watching them go about their business was an entertaining eyeful – a gentleman’s compliment in every connotation.
When it was time for the stage show to begin, DJ E.R.’s set seamlessly subsided and we were introduced to the house band The Hollywood Players – a tight sextet of rhythm section and two brass players (keys, guitar, bass, drums, trumpet and trombone, and two background singers), followed by the host of the evening comedian/singer Reign. These guys clearly rehearse and play together on a regular basis (none of that cobbled together sittin’ in stuff) which, to my veteran ears, made for a really tight unit. Even when they were thrown the occasional unplanned curveball, they quickly adapted and rocked the joint within 4 bars or less.
As for Reign, he was a great host, cajoling a typically aloof L.A. crowd into participation by obliterating any barriers between the audience and the performers. Whether lightly chastising a young girl for walking up on stage uninvited to wish her homegirl a happy birthday or making off color cracks about a front and center table of Koreans there to see them some Amerie up close, all of his jokes and the manner in which he delivered them were playful and ultimately affectionate. Nobody was storming away mad on his watch.
The MOST surprising element of the night for me was the consistently high level of the amateur singers. Clearly, when the producers hold auditions, they seriously weed out anybody that could potentially embarrass themselves and/or the club. All 8 of the guest singers (of varying levels of experience and age) were of a caliber that could make semi-finals on any self-respecting television singing competition. They hailed from all over the country and they ALL had soul – even the White girl Mikela from Texas who threw down on Erykah Badu’s “On & On” then ended with a hearty, “Thank you, yall!”
Props to Summer – a belter who sang Alicia Keys’ “I Ain’t Got You” dressed in black and crowned with a big ol’ white church hat with matching bow – Veronica from Houston who in contrast laid out a jazzy Chicago Cabaret kind of take on Alicia’s “Fallin’” – Francois from South Florida (with the pretty smile) who produced equally pretty notes on Beyonce’s “Halo” – and Josh who offered the 1-2 punch of Cee-Lo’s Crazy” and (boldy, for a dude) Beyonce’s “Smash Into You.” Stevie J from Indianapolis did a decent “Luv” by MusiqSoulchild but could stand to open up his emotional floodgates a little more – toward the end he was sounding like just another instrument instead of the singer in front of them.
Two singers thoroughly impressed me and BOTH of them did Rufus featuring Chaka Khan classics. First was pint sized fury Carmen Cameron from Baltimore who sang “Sweet Thing” like she’d been knowing what it was all about since the age of 6 (she also sang Beyonce’s “Nothing But Love”). Then there was Crystal Hayworth who just flat foot SANG the mess out of “Tell Me Something Good.” Y’all should be `bout ready to headline your own damn shows – I’m just sayin’.
White comedian R.J. had the crowd in stitches asking the ladies which voices of ethnic men were sexiest, running through Australian, German, Japanese, Indian, British, etc. with hysterical results. For a finale, he presented Snoop Dogg teaching a kindergarten class its ABC’s (“stick-icky ooo-weee”). This cocky southern White boy is clearly going places.
Finally, after another brief reprise from DJ E.R., headliner Amerie took the stage for two songs with the band. Before she sang a note she had the place trippin’ because she cut most of her hair off, rockin’a short and sassy new look. Once everyone adjusted to that, she set it off with her debut hit “Why Can’t We Fall in Love,” followed by the eternally infectious “1 Thing.” She came out in the crowd and got audience participation from people singing the “Na-na-na-na-na OH” hook, bounding throughout the room with energy to spare. It wasn’t the same as seeing her with all her dancers and sexy stage outfits, but it was clearly a teaser to let you know she is working on a Prelude EP PLUS a new CD soon to come.
In the elevator on the way out, I overheard a guy ask the ladies that accompanied him if they enjoyed Amerie. They said, “She only SANG TWO SONGS which was cool – you didn’t pay for a whole concert – but I REALLY enjoyed everybody else!”
I could not have said it any better myself.
A. Scott Galloway
The Urban Music Scene