R. Kelly’s Verizon Center appearance Saturday night was an awkward, poorly paced mash-up: There was some of the gleefully prurient R. Kelly we all know and love/recoil in bemusement from, plus a little bit of the new, more chaste persona he’s channeling on his seven-month-old “Love Letter” album, a throwback to ’60s soul. But Kelly isn’t nearly as gifted as, say, Raphael Saadiq or even Cee Lo Green at wringing vital new sounds from vintage influences.
No, we still go to Kelly for the over-the-top, libidinous singing that begat 22 chapters of “Trapped in the Closet” and tens of millions of album sales. Despite a “Love Letter”-themed stage set and video segments, Saturday’s show was light on actual songs from the album and heavy on the old hits, albeit in ring-tone-abridged versions. He kept his finger on his eight-piece band’s “skip” button, waiting a full hour to actually finish a song. (“Ignition.” It was great.)