Review by Justin Burkhardt, photos by Justin Burkhardt and Terence Johnson
It’s been awhile since many of Maxwell’s fans have seen him live, but on Thursday at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, he proved to be more than worth the wait. The Grammy Award-winning soul singer last toured four years ago (two years ago he canceled a follow-up tour due to vocal hemorrhaging), but on stage he’s still as strong as ever. Maxwell stuck to his old hits during the show but he promised the nearly sold out and very enthusiastic crowd that the follow-up album to 2009’s BLACKsummer’snight, which won two Grammys, would be released sometime this year.
One of Maxwell’s main strengths is still his breathless falsetto, which is one of the best in all of music. Even at age 41, his vocals are still as strong as ever, which was no certainty since he cancelled a previously schedule tour to have surgery on a ruptured vocal cord. His rendition of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work”, was one of those rare cover songs which is actually better than the original. His version is so outstanding live that you truly have to hear it in person to believe just how good it sounds in comparison to hearing it on record. “Lifetime”, another one of Maxwell’s bigger hits from the album NOW, really had the crowd singing along. Maxwell also performed “Fire We Make”, his hot duet with Alicia Keys, who sang her part via a video cameo that appeared behind Maxwell and his band. Even Maxwell’s older hits like “Sumthin’ Sumthin” & “Til the Cops Come Knockin” sound as good if not better live. He said during the concert that as a musician he always set out to make music that he would still be able to perform the same songs in the same way as he gets older, and he’s absolutely achieved that. Maxwell’s incredible voice never once faltered during his roughly hour and a half set. And hearing that voice live is absolutely worth the price of seeing him in concert.
Maxwell said during the concert that the true measure of success in a music career is when you can be around for as long as he has and still have many people come to your shows even when you have no new material out. Nnot only did the fans come; they were some of the most enthusiastic fans I’ve ever seen at a concert. Ladies rushed the stage early on in the concert and hearing Maxwell’s voice apparently just does something to a lot of women. Fans were clamoring just to have him reach out and touch them or just sing in their direction. He even broke out a few dances moves throughout the night as he slowly started to get more comfortable with the crowd and his dress attire. Maxwell seemed pleasantly surprised about the Bethlehem crowd and he really seemed to enjoy himself as he kept the audience engaged throughout the entire night. I wouldn’t be surprised if we do get to see him perform again in the area at some point, and I hope we do. It really says something about the talent that Maxwell is that he is able to “go away” for a period of time and still command the interest and respect that he does when he returns. Maxwell finished his set for the night with a stripped down version of “Pretty Wings”, his most popular song to date and it is just as beautiful of a song if not more so as a slowed/stripped down version.
If I had a criticism of the concert, it was his choice of opening act, a solo guitarist named Nick Hakim. Hakim played a stripped down electric guitar set alone & while he showed some talent, it just wasn’t a good fit. Add in a crowd clearly waiting on the edge of their seat to see the headliner, when Hakim told the crowd he was going to play two more songs a large portion of the crowd actually yelled out in unison “No!” Hakim handled the criticism well but he was still out of his element.
Maxwell is simply one of those legendary soulful performers such as Sade, D’Angelo, and Prince, who do things their way and on their own time (For example, Maxwell once took an 8-year hiatus from music). Knowing that fact, when you get the chance to see Maxwell in concert, you absolutely need to take it. Maxwell should be on every music lover’s concert bucket-list as there just aren’t many performers or voices like him left in music these days.