It is one thing to sing about sex; it is another thing entirely to make music imbued with the intoxicating essence of sensuality. Few performers have distilled this erotic essence as successfully as Marvin Gaye did at the Capital Centre last night.

Making his first tour in five years, the 44-year-old singer led his 24-member troupe through throbbing funk arrangements that gave his hits an engulfing fullness. Gaye's voice rose into a smooth, breathy purr for the more romantic side of love; he then dropped into a gritty growl for its earthier side. After a song climaxed Gaye would drift off into falsetto yodels of satisfaction.

When he sang his 1973 classic "Let's Get It On," he underscored the vocal's sensuality by unbuttoning his gold sequined tux and rotating his hips in a slow grind. He sang his show-stopping version of last year's hit "Sexual Healing" in scarlet satin pajamas with a hypnotic intimacy to match.

Yet Gaye was just as successful singing his 1971 social protest hits, "What's Going On" and "Inner City Blues." Though his voice isn't a rare natural instrument, he showed a rare gift for expressing the tension of overwhelming but unfulfilled desire, whether it be for physical love, social justice or peace with God. In Gaye's songwriting, the three are often intertwined.