R. Kelly didn't want anyone to feel left out.
Thus, he felt it was necessary to explain how the seemingly exclusionary title of his current concert trek, the Single Ladies Tour, applied to everyone at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday night.
"Single can mean a lot of things," said the 45-year-old R&B vocalist, basically contradicting every dictionary in the known universe. "If you are here with the one you love and you don't get your (act) together, then you too will be single."
Now it all makes sense. Except, of course, for how the whole "ladies" angle applied to the men in attendance during the second half of a two-night stand at the ornate downtown Oakland venue.
To be honest, Kelly probably isn't all that concerned about the guys -- they've never been his core audience and, in all likelihood, they never will be.
The different reaction between the sexes was quite striking. The women were ecstatic throughout the nearly two-hour show -- whooping and hollering, bumping and grinding, to just about every song the star sang. Many of the boyfriends and husbands in the crowd, however, were rather sedate, content to just sit in their seats and count up all the Brownie points they were earning during the evening.
Kelly is aware of the situation and he plays his cards accordingly.
"If you love me, ladies," he screamed out early in the night, "make some noise!"
They did — and they continued to make plenty of
Kelly is a polarizing figure, due in large part to a 2002 sex scandal and the resulting legal problems, and he's turned off nearly as many listeners as he's turned on. Yet, there's no doubting that he's a first-rate entertainer.
It all starts with the visuals, which were striking throughout the show. He first appeared onstage through a semi-translucent curtain, then huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf until the white sheet blew away, revealing Kelly, eight backing vocalists/musicians and, I kid you not, two bartenders -- all dressed in white.
Kelly grooved, while the bartenders poured drinks for a few ladies, and the place went nuts. The first half of the show was full of short snippets from many of the hits and fan favorites from Kelly's 20-year recording career.
The star, who is touring in support of this year's "Write Me Back," was feeling pretty playful, veering from the set list and even ad-libbing some lines at one point. He believed the improvisation added to the show and, in most cases, he was right.
"Ain't that what you all paid for?" he said after making up one little song on the spot. "You paid for a show."
He was also quite comical and not above the occasional sight gag. For example, he asked for "a little stool" be brought out onstage — and didn't flinch an inch when two roadies carried out a huge golden throne for him to sit on. Indeed, he looked mighty content resting in the king's chair.
But the joker is just one side of Kelly -- one that makes his other onstage personas all that more convincing. He can croon a slow jam with the best of them, of course, but he's also quite good with the inspirational anthems. The best known of the latter is "I Believe I Can Fly" -- the 1996 tune that earned Kelly his three Grammy Awards.
That song sounds incredibly hokey these days -- except when you hear Kelly sing it in person. The tune turned out to be one of the true highlights of the Paramount show, right up there with "I Wish" and "Step in the Name of Love."
As he sang "I Believe I Can Fly" near the end of the show, the people -- both men and women -- stood as one to watch Kelly soar.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.