Proficient rhythm-and-blues male vocalists pride themselves on their showmanship. They also never forget their roots. Three premier R&B acts -- Johnny Gill, Keith Sweat and Bell Biv Devoe -- justified those standards Thursday night before a capacity crowd at Capital Centre.
Native Washingtonian Johnny Gill, who on Wednesday garnered three 1991 Soul Train Music Award nominations, turned in an exceptional performance. His boundless range and passionate delivery showcased his gospel roots. Gill's lengthy rendition of his former No. 1 R&B smash, "My, My, My," was one of the evening's highlights. Gill masterfully colored notes with harmonic, high-pitched lilts and low-pitched groans. He also delicately segued into vignettes of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Teddy Pendergrass's "Another Love TKO" before successfully delivering the obligatory big climax.
Gospel-trained Keith Sweat followed Gill and performed hits from his 1988 LP, "Make It Last Forever," and his current platinum disc, "I'll Give All My Love to You." Like Gill, Sweat was most impressive as a balladeer. His mid-range was complemented by guest vocalist Jaki McGhee's emotive alto during "Make It Last Forever." Gerald Levert also joined Sweat to perform their duet, "Just One of Them Thangs," contributing his rich bass.
Gill and Sweat used stages that resembled plush two-story bachelor apartments, complete with elevators, illuminated stairs, couches and rose-filled vases. But Bell Biv Devoe opted for the trappings of its inner-city roots. Its stage was furnished with basketball hoops, a public telephone, a graffiti-covered brick wall and perhaps the ultimate homeboy symbol -- a giant beeper hanging from the rafters. BBD's highly choreographed six-song set featured Ricky Bell's solo performance of the ballad "When Will I See You Smile Again" and the group's spirited renditions of its popular up-tempo numbers, "Do Me" and "Poison."
Live backup bands and dancers during all sets contributed to an elegant and exciting show, visually and aurally. Monie Love, the British female rapper, was scheduled to appear, but her tour has been canceled, probably because of her pregnancy.