In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, it is not unusual for music’s premier balladeers to hit a stage near you to perform all your favorite love songs. Singles and couples alike often include attending a performance as part of their romantic repertoire in celebration of the season. It was no surprise when B.B. King’s in New York City hosted a sold out performance on February 7 with retro-soul crooner Eric Benet as the main attraction. And main attraction he was.
Though Benet has been out of the musical spotlight for the last five years, he managed to stay center stage as the boyfriend, husband and now ex-husband of Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. Sadly, the union ended in a messy divorce, resulting in Berry portraying the broken-hearted beauty and Benet as the cheating cad petitioning for spousal support. This certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the audience or this performance.
At 8:15 p.m., with a five-piece band in tow, Mr. Benet hit the stage. With dark pants, beige suit jacket, tan shirt and loose-fitted tie, he looked elegantly casual and quite handsome. The diamond in his ear sparkled as if these last five years haven’t exactly been a struggle. This did not go unnoticed with the audience, and the debonair singer received a warm welcome. He opened the show with the smooth and velvety “When You Think of Me” from his sophomore album A Day in the Life. “What’s up New York, my name is Eric Benet,” he stated and the show really began.
The singer came off as warm, funny, introspective, even charming, and quite honest with the audience. In between songs, he spoke of mistakes he’s made in the past, learning from these mistakes, and starting over again. He also made it clear that he “loved women.”
With the jazz-influenced vocals for which he is famous, Benet went on to sing a nice mix of tunes from both his previous releases: “While You Were Here,” “Femininity,” “Be Myself Again,” and a nice duet with background singer, Belle Johnson, who stepped in for singer Tamia as the lead in the popular wedding song “Spend My Life With You.” To bring the tempo up a bit, the singer made an adventurous attempt at his rendition of Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” for which he gets credit simply because it’s no easy feat to cover anything by Prince; but it did bring the audience up and a chance to showcase the band. A little long, but tolerable. Next, Benet got the audience involved in a little impromptu melody with the ladies and gents each singing their respective parts, which everyone, including Benet, seemed to enjoy.
The second set of the show consisted of some new material from his latest release, Hurricane. Set to a soft marching drum beat “India”, a song Benet wrote for his daughter, was quite touching, especially as he introduced it explaining his love for being a parent and how much his daughter meant to him. It made him seem human vulnerable and imperfect. Also from the new album, the sensual “Where Does the Love Go” again featured Belle Johnson as a stand-in lead, the mid-tempo and jazzy vocals of “Why You Follow Me” from his second release, then back to the new with the second and current single, “Pretty Baby”.
The show’s highlight had to be Erics tribute to composer/producer extraordinaire David Foster. He went into singing short snippets of Foster’s acclaimed catalog: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After the Love is Gone” and “September”, and Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire”, in which the balladeer showcased his proficient vocal range and falsetto and sent the audience into enthusiastic applause. With just the tinkering of a classic piano, Benet crooned “The Last Time”, a song Foster composed and contributed to the new album. Eric thanked the audience for their support, and went into “I Wanna Be Loved”, the first single off of Hurricane.
For the encore, Benet returned to the stage with his tie loosened and backed by a Spanish guitar to sing the never-released but internet popular “Spanish Fly”. He closed the show with “Georgy Porgy.” The only thing that could have made the song more perfect was an appearance by Faith Evans; otherwise the show ended on a very positive and upbeat note.
We all make mistakes. Fortunately for most of us, our mistakes are not made in view of the world to see. It takes a certain amount of courage to stand up and admit lapses in judgment, especially if others have been hurt in the process. But to take center stage, admit your mistakes and take accountability for them is someone who deserves a listen.