Luther Vandross may well be the most spectacular singer in pop music. Not only does he possess a magnificent natural voice and technical control, but he also displays unerring emotional instincts. At the Capital Centre Wednesday night, he looked trim and dapper after a rigorous diet, and he was at peak form on a string of familiar songs from his first four albums.
Like the singer, the show was pared down. Nat Adderley Jr.'s all-star band sat in an offstage pit, and Vandross often prowled the in-the-round stage all alone. The props, skits and epic arrangements of past shows were dispensed with; Vandross instead emphasized his well-wrought songs. Even on the funky up-tempo songs such as "It's Over Now," he injected every syllable with a lustrous tone. He excelled, though, on his ballads such as "My Sensitivity Gets in the Way." After approaching a musical climax with big, reverberating notes, he triggered that climax with a gigantic shudder that began in the depths of his baritone range and worked its way up to an exhausted falsetto swoon.
Isley-Jasper-Isley offered an impressive mix of rock guitar, funk rhythms and soul crooning in the evening's middle set. Ernie Isley dedicated the show to his older brother O'Kelly, who had died two days earlier, and paid tribute with a long, impassioned guitar solo reminiscent of the Isleys' old guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.
Starpoint, a pop-funk sextet from nearby Crownsville, Md., displayed a refreshing new melodic emphasis during the opening set. While the four Phillips brothers established bright synth-pop dance rhythms, Renee Diggs delivered a powerful soprano that shot off into falsetto exclamations on songs like the band's recent hit, "The Object of My Desire."