GRAND PRAIRIE -- Keith Sweat turned a slam dunk into a layup on Saturday night at Verizon Theatre.
He still scored. He just changed his approach. What's usually a sly seduction turned into a full-frontal assault. There were bold proclamations, such as "Somebody's going to get pregnant tonight." And there was more than a bit of sleight of hand: An admittedly tired Sweat played more than 20-year-old music videos to some of his more fan-friendly hits, directing eyes there whilst he rested a bit onstage. But don't get it "Twisted" -- we'll talk more about that jam later -- it was a stylish show, complete with a stocked bar, unnecessary hype man, couch and a love seat on stage.
But there was just enough substance. Along with rote renditions of hits such as "Don't Stop to Love," he performed a couple he helped write for others. "Just Got Paid" was an energetic surprise; singer Johnny Kemp died just this year. "Freak Me," a hit for one-time opening act Silk, was a highlight. An ebullient backup singer stepped out front to inject some life into the song and an exuberant female fan seated at the bar.
That's Sweat's legacy. He can write a mean right hook, knows his way around a lyric and knows how to surround himself with talent. That was Kut Klose on the video for "Twisted," Kut Klose singer Athena Cage on "Nobody" and his most enduring song, "Make It Last Forever," was lifted by Jacci McGhee.
The material from LSG is a hit in more ways that one. Gerald Levert, Sweat and Johnny Gill joined forces in the late '90s to form the supergroup, much to the delight of seemingly every female in the Western hemisphere. Sweat performed those songs with a power and clarity missing from his solo output, which sounds a little dated: A blatant "Door #1" brought the noise and a sensual and video-aided "My Body" brought the funk, if you read what I'm saying. LSG brought out the best in Sweat's fair vocals; no choice, really, when you're literally in the middle of two of the genre's biggest voices.
But it's not really about that, is it? This was the R&B Music Fest. Didn't you see the sign on your way in? That denotes and connotes a celebration of the genre. Even in between sets, music from the 1990s had the audience buzzing and singing along.
One can blame the openers. SWV and Bell Biv DeVoe had an unintentional singalong-off. What BBD had in quantity, SWV made up for in intensity.
The trio, who looked resplendent in white and smart in comfortable wedge-heeled shoes, warmed up with debut single "Right Here," performed almost 22 years to the date they released the long-charting remix in 1993. Then Taj George, Coko Clemons and Lelee Lyons made folks (OK, me) do the Wop with "I'm So Into You." The crowd of all ages, including some obvious '90s revivalists, got a treat when the group took over Wu-Tang's rap on "Anything."
This was the R&B Music Fest. Didn't you see the sign on your way in? That denotes and connotes a celebration of the genre.
Their voices have a depth and tone that they didn't have early in their career; perhaps it's the added confidence of having a hit reality TV show, SWV Reunited. See "Can We" from the great soundtrack to Booty Call. They threw the first punch in the singalong-off and it was the hardest: When the Sisters With Voices sang "Weak," the entire place, staff included, matched them note for note.
Trying not to be outdone, BBD said up front that they wanted "to turn the building into a big old party." After all, they're in the midst of celebrating the 25th anniversary of Poison. So they kicked off with singalong number one, "Do Me Baby." This is why beats are important: No one ever takes them to task for "backstage," "underage" and "adolescent." Etc.
Another couple of lessons: It didn't matter that singalong number two, "I Thought It Was Me," turned to mush halfway through; Ronnie DeVoe was having the time of his life, dancing with abandon and precision if such a thing is possible. It also didn't matter that latter-day New Edition "Hot Tonight" and early BBD "She's Dope" landed with a thud. One can write that off as a momentary lapse when Ricky Bell, who does a lot of heavy lifting for NE and BBD, turns his take on the opening of R. Kelly's "Bump N' Grind" into "When Will I See You Smile Again."
The term might be a little new, but turning up isn't. (DeVoe might still be dancing, Sweat still smiling and SWV might still be hitting some high notes at this very moment.) Every artist in the '90s knew how to have fun. The proof is that they still are.
Follow Dawn M. Burkes on Twitter at @DawnBurkes and watch her on "From the Hip" on The Dallas Morning News channel on YouTube.