When Maxwell arrived on the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion stage Saturday evening, the crowd let loose with a welcome appropriate to a heartthrob: a pavilion-filling torrent of screams, to which the singer replied with a huge grin. Over the course of the tightly paced set that followed, the soul singer-songwriter proved his mettle as a musician and a messenger of love, leading an impeccably tight band through winding soul tracks like the lust-filled “Bad Habits” and the devoted “Fistful of Tears.”
Maxwell, 41, has been beloved by R&B audiences and critics since the release of his 1996 debut “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite,” and Saturday’s show handily revealed why: His talent is as profligate as his charm, and his come-ons are made even more attractive by his sly wit. He’s possessed with a formidable voice that can shift from his skyscraping falsetto to his sultry lower register on a dime; he commands a tight band that handles ruminating slow jams as well as it does more forceful, upbeat tracks; his star power hasn’t rendered him so aloof that he won’t accept a smooch (or a pelted-from-the-seats pair of panties) from a besotted audience member. Live, he and his backing musicians transformed album cuts into seductive extended jams; saxophone player Kenneth Whalum III added soothing solos to “Fortunate” and “Bad Habits,” while guitarist (and longtime Maxwell collaborator) Hod David’s flinty guitar solo on “Stop The World” gave it an extra charge. Maxwell took time out to thank not just the audience, but his muses as well; when a virtual Alicia Keys showed up for the smoldering duet “Fire We Make,” Maxwell responded to her verses in kind with seductive poses, and before he went into his tender version of Kate Bush’s heartbreaking “This Woman’s Work,” he ceded the speaker system to her 2011 rework of the track.
“BLACKsummers’night,” the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born singer’s last album, came out in 2009; it was set to be the first in a trilogy, although Part 2 — “SUMMERS” — has been long in coming. Its name branded this tour; at one point on Saturday, Maxwell playfully admitted his plans to put some “soul in the solstice.” Saturday night’s setlist didn’t have any previews of “SUMMERS,” which was a slight disappointment, although it allowed the audience to sing along with songs they knew by heart — and, thanks to Maxwell’s effervescent gratitude, they could leave with the tantalizing promise of another heat-filled evening.
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.