Near the end of her concert Thursday, Tamar Braxton entreated the crowd to “get your life like I got mine.” What Braxton has done with her life over the past few years is finally break through with critical and commercial success after spending decades in the music business with little to show for it. After a long time spent in the shadow of big sister Toni Braxton — first in a girl group, then as a solo artist — it took a turn on reality TV to make her a star in her own right.
With “Braxton Family Values” and “Tamar & Vince,” the R&B singer re-introduced herself to audiences as the diva she always imagined she would be, in all her outspoken and opinionated glory. That same diva showed up for a sold-out show at the Fillmore Silver Spring in support of last year’s Grammy-nominated — and long-gestating — “Love and War.”
Braxton has the stage presence of someone who has been performing since childhood. And while she doesn’t quite have the moves of her sculpted background dancers, her dance repertoire was heavy on attitude; each hip-roll, booty-shake, hair-flip, and finger-wag energized the crowd.
Musically, “Love and War” bounds between the sweeping ballads of classic R&B and club-ready tunes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Rihanna album. The cohesion comes from lyrics that live up to the album title: Braxton sings age-old tales about finding and fighting for love and about relationships that require work, whether that means a secret rendezvous or a serving of “Hot Sugar.”
These stories definitely resonated with the grown-and-sexy crowd, and in between songs, Braxton treated the stage like a reality TV confessional, making inspirational speeches about self-empowerment. At one point, she told fans that no matter their size, shape or sexuality, “You have what it takes,” and despite crowd chatter that made her difficult to hear, she connected with a legion of shrieking die-hards.
Like her TV shows, Braxton’s live performance is marked by easy-to-swallow clichés, from the sequined costume changes to her steamy interactions with her male dancers. At one point, those dancers became the focus, performing a hip-hop Chippendales act as Braxton took a breather backstage. Wish fulfillment — for both her and her audience — was at the top of the to-do list.
Braxton sang almost all the songs on “Love and War,” even if only for a verse and a chorus, showing off her impressive vocal range. But hitting the notes has never been the problem for her: it’s been having songs that live up to her talent. “Love and War” has a few of those, but perhaps not enough for a headlining gig — one not on reality TV, at least.
Kelly is a freelance writer.