There was excitement in the streets--literally. When concertgoers arrived last night for the first of six sold-out performances by R&B singer Maxwell at Constitution Hall, "technical difficulties" forced them to wait outside the venue for 40 minutes. But Maxwell's fans are used to waiting for him. After all, just last year he canceled a tour two weeks before the start date, citing "personal reasons."

"Have y'all been waiting?" he crooned from offstage in his trademark falsetto, moments before making his entrance. At this point fans had been waiting over an hour inside the concert hall, during which comedian Melanie Comacho performed a hilarious blue set.

Maxwell opened with "Luxury: Cococure," the first single from his last album, "Embrya." Dressed all in white, Maxwell performed in front of white canopies that resembled sheets hanging out to dry. The stage set suggested a biological theme with shapes and colors that brought to mind amoebas, beakers and strange fluids.

As a recording artist, Maxwell sometimes disappoints. His debut, "Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite," showed promise, but the follow-up, "Embrya," is a sleepy atmospheric collection of indistinguishable bass-driven grooves. In contrast, his live performance is tight and focused. And he is as skillful with hip swivels as he is at employing that surprisingly strong and steady falsetto.

An energetic crowd-pleaser, Maxwell often stopped to talk to the audience, and at one point invited someone sitting in the very back to move to the front row. He also graciously greeted women at the edge of the stage with a hug and a kiss.

Maxwell is best at creating mood, whether it's the psychedelic dance-hall sound of "Gravity: Pushing to Pull," the ethereal charm of "This Woman's Work" or the sunny groove of the one new song he performed, "Get to Know." He's not the future of soul, as fans and some critics claim, but an eye-catching, ear-candy footnote.

Maxwell is also not your typical R&B bad boy lover in the mold of R. Kelly or K-Ci from K-Ci & JoJo. A sensitive nouveau-soul "new man," Maxwell celebrates monogamy on last year's single "Matrimony: Maybe You," which makes him an ideal sex symbol for the Age of AIDS. Ever the nice guy, he is even completely respectful when making a come-on. Last night he sang, "We can do a little sumthin' sumthin'." But quickly added: "Only if it's cool."

CAPTION: One singular sensation: Maxwell, performing at his first of six sold-out shows at Constitution Hall.

CAPTION: Setting the mood: Last night, R&B singer Maxwell put on a tight, focused show.