The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At the Howard Theater, R&B singer Giveon stretches his vocal chops before a sellout crowd

The multi-Grammy-nominee Giveon performed in front of a sellout crowd at the Howard Theater on Dec. 3, 2020. (Brian Ziff)

Long before Giveon’s multiple Grammy nominations and chart success, the budding R&B performer would sing “Happy Birthday,” at his mother’s insistence, when he was a child.

But on Friday night, in front of a sellout crowd at the Howard Theater, when Giveon put his mom on speakerphone in celebration, the audience sang in his place as he held the phone up, flashing a bright grin.

The 26-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native was nominated last month in six Grammy categories, mostly for his collaboration with Justin Bieber and Daniel Caesar on the megahit “Peaches,” and also for his solo effort, “Heartbreak Anniversary.”

Grammy nominations 2022: Taylor vs. Kanye (again). Jon batiste leads the pack. Olivia Rodrigo makes a big splash.

The singer performed that wistful, lovelorn anthem ahead of the start of his “Timeless Tour” last month at the 2021 American Music Awards. It was a restrained act, with his roomy baritone sounding labored against a drowsy band.

But for his show in D.C. this past weekend, Giveon’s amber-encased vocals glinted amid the electrifying live instruments. Bombastic drums and a steamy bass line added intensity to his slinky hometown homage “The Beach,” a clear-eyed opening song that also worked as a road map to the different avenues of heartache.

The crowd enthusiastically sang along, and at the song’s end, Giveon’s face glowed as he asked for permission to “go slow and take my time” on his first headlining tour.

Last year, Giveon started gaining wider recognition, and later chart success, for his piano-laced hook on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle.” But when his debut EP, “Take Time,” came out in late March of last year, pandemic restrictions were just beginning to hold the United States in their grip.

A year later, Giveon told Rolling Stone he hoped to go on the road and finish his debut album. Now, his sold-out tour has so far garnered a surprise appearance by Drake at the Toronto show.

He’s still working toward that debut album, but in the meantime, his latest release “When It’s All Said and Done . . . Take Time,” is a compilation of his two 2020 EPs, spinning anguish into velvet cords of aspirational eternity. Giveon cites Frank Sinatra and Barry White as musical inspirations, along with his mother’s recordings of Anita Baker and Mary J. Blige, revealing ambitions of transcendent vocal recognition. But he’s still early in his journey. His distinct voice, however, promises attention, with its crystalline base and resolute timbre.

It would further flourish with the energetic live musicians that accompanied him Friday night. Through headphones, for instance, the haughty and haunted “Still Your Best” tries at sexiness, but ends up sounding surly. Onstage, an explosive guitarist and shuddering drums helps capture that arrogant yet still alluring mood.

This time, as Giveon closed out with “Heartbreak Anniversary,” with a devoted audience singing along, his voice stretched and unfurled with full-bodied yearning, a prismatic release that brought light to the inky December night.