If you ever have visitors come to town and want them to capture the true essence of fun in Philly, just take them to a concert at the Dell Music Center on a summer night, when the Essence of Entertainment series presents the best in R&B and classic soul.
Last Thursday, featured the Grammy-nominated Canadian Queen, Tamia, along with three-time Grammy winner and “World of Dance” judge, Ne-Yo.
There is a running commentary about the torrential rains that seem to plague Thursdays, coming just in time to put a damper on the concert, but this time, the clouds cooperated, and after a brief storm well before showtime, the evening was warm, dry and clear.
The evening began with WDAS radio personality Patty Jackson welcoming the audience, and introducing the station’s new “Quiet Storm” host, Adimu Colon, who is quite easy on the eyes.
The show opened with a pleasant surprise, with talented Philadelphia vocalist Carol Riddick taking the stage. Explaining that she would be performing an abbreviated set due to “technical difficulties,” Riddick, accompanied by two backup singers, opened with Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It,” followed by one of her original compositions.
Having performed at the Dell on several occasions, Riddick truly enjoys singing and appreciated the love that she received from her hometown. Her set also included Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies,” “Rain” by SWV and she concluded with a Frankie Beverly favorite, “We Are One.”
As always, DJ Gary O kept the crowd pumped between acts, playing the old school R&B and hip-hop that kept people dancing like they knew everyone was watching — as they watched themselves on the two jumbo monitors flanking the stage.
Next up was the pretty and polished Tamia, aka Mrs. Grant Hill. Taking over the stage in “hot pants” and thigh-high boots with stiletto heels, she got vocal and visual support from two energetic singer-dancers, and made her statement with superb singing. No twerking necessary!
Tamia has an appealing onstage persona and was in fine voice as she offered an evening of beautiful and poignant love songs including “Still,” “Officially Missing You,” “Beautiful Surprise,” “Almost,” “You Put a Move on My Heart” and “There’s a Stranger in My House,” as well as “Old Friend,” performed in tribute to who she called her “favorite singer,” Phyllis Hyman.
“Explaining that she is celebrating 20 years of marriage with her husband, NBA great Grant Hill, she delivered an emotional rendition of “Spend My Life With You.”
“The secret to marriage is whatever you do, do it with passion and always leave it smokin’!” she said.
At 9:30 p.m., the headliner took the stage, and it was immediately evident that Ne-Yo, born Shaffer Smith, was in Philly to have fun. Accompanied by outstanding musicians, his set opened with a lively video montage and the captivating hit “So Sick,” a favorite of the late Aretha Franklin.
A highly sought-after tunesmith before deciding to showcase his own material, Ne-Yo is a virtual song machine, with his show, in the words of the late great Georgie Woods, featuring “hit after hit, smash after smash, blockbuster after blockbuster.”
Dancing and cavorting across the entire stage, he flirted with the crowd, and seemed to enjoy tossing his endless supply of towels into the crowd after using them to wipe his sweat. Needless to say, the ladies were jubilant.
But back to the music, Ne-Yo paid tribute to his idol, Michael Jackson, with a medley of his songs, before trying to stump the audience with Mario’s “Let Me Love You” and Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.”
“How many of you knew that I wrote those songs?” he asked, and there were many who were clearly shocked.
He also introduced music from his latest CD titled “Good Man,” which he jokingly called the “best album that you’ve never heard.”
His engaging sense of humor became even more evident when he invited three ladies onstage for a hotly contested dance contest that they all took quite seriously.
The hits continued with “Miss Independent,” “All Because of You,” “Do You Ever Think of Me?” and “Sexy Love” before ending his highly interactive show with “I Just Can’t Stop.” Then, with his fans now in a frenzy, paid a final tribute to Michael Jackson, tossing his hat into the crowd.