Six time Grammy nominee. Four official studio albums. Charlotte, North Carolina native. Singer, songwriter, producer. Spirit-filled, authentic, weaver of emotional words. “Amazing”. “Outrageous”. Father, husband, friend.
Wednesday night, R&B soul singer Anthony Hamilton did one of the things he does the best – transform an ordinary concert venue to an uplifting, spirit-filled, unforgettable life experience; and he did just that at the Fillmore, a newly opened Live Nation venue in Silver Spring, MD. Hamilton has an uncanny ability to not only speak to the human heart through his music, but he also brings something that music, for the most part, is a tad devoid of – a transformative transparency of life, love, God, triumph, pain and testimony. When on stage, Hamilton speaks his truth from the time the first band member hits the stage, to the first down beat, to his conversations with his audience, to his unique dance stylings, and down to the very last note. He is one of a kind and in the music world & world in general we are lucky to have him – Mr. Anthony Hamilton.
Hamilton’s musical career unofficially started at the early age of 10 years old, singing in the church choir – an influence that is clearly evident in his live performances. However Hamilton’s early musical career was, as his bio indicates, a journey “that tested Hamilton’s patience and perseverance”. From 1993 to 2002, his journey would not be easy, but it was the hook that he sang on “Po’ Folks” by Nappy Roots in 2002, that would land him his first Grammy nomination and a new record label, Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def. In 2003, Coming From Where I’m From, Hamilton’s first studio album, was released and went platinum. Right behind that ground-breaking album was Ain’t Nobody Worryin’, which went gold – and the rest, as they say, is history. With over 15 Top 100 chart singles; countless award nominations including BET Awards, Critics Choice Awards, The Grammys, NAACP Image Awards, and the MOBO Awards; and collaborations that range from Al Green to 2Pac to Santana to John Rich of the musical duo Big & Rich to Buddy Guy to Jill Scott – Anthony Hamilton is not nearly as impressive on paper or on his albums, as he is on stage. However, let’s be clear – he is impressive on paper and on his albums … but on stage, it is something that you don’t even attempt to put your finger on, an experience that simply must be experienced. This may be my hardest review yet. Whoever coined the phrase “You had to be there” didn’t know it at the time, but subconsciously they had to have had Anthony Hamilton’s stage performance in mind.
There are a few “standards” when it comes to seeing Anthony Hamilton perform live. First, you can tell the folks who are seeing Hamilton for the first time. They don’t have the, we’ll call it a “love glow”, as the concert starts, but they get it midway through the concert; Second, Anthony is always sporting a fly chapeau; Third, The Band will blow you away; Fourth, Hamilton is charismatic – he dances solo, in choreographed moves with his band, he engages the crowd and when it’s time to go to ch’uch – there is no other better place for a music loving, spirit-filled, believer to be. To see him perform one or two songs at an awards show or on a talk show is not enough – you wouldn’t get the full effect of what happens at a performance and at the Fillmore on Wednesday night, Anthony Hamilton performed, entertained, shared, ministered, consoled, energized and “tore the roof off” the Fillmore for almost 2 hours. Music fans – trust, it simply doesn’t get much better than that.
Hamilton started out his set with an Intro and Sucka For You. Always in what I term “his signature hat & vest look”, this evening he was particularly dapper with the gray tones, off set with red & white. Fly gray tweed-ish vest with the chain, gray jacket & gray hat with red & white band and “clean” red & white shoes (were they velvet?) lets you know that Hamilton has arrived, and not in the implied “arrived equals success”, but in a way that lets you know there is going to be some authenticity happening on that stage tonight. An air of being effortlessly meticulous is the only way to describe it.
The charisma with which Anthony Hamilton performs is simply a momentum of energy that has to be witnessed as he launched into Writing On The Wall, Cool and Comin From Where I’m From. And just like that, Hamilton goes from performer, to friend, to the man who doesn’t miss a thing. An audience member must have asked for his hat, because the next thing to come thru the microphone was “Gimme your hat. Let’s swap”. Authentic Hamilton. Fashion. Love. Spirituality. Best Of Me, a song off his latest upcoming project – Back To Love, was next and Hamilton shared that Sucka For You and Writing on the Wall were also singles off the new album. From there Hamilton went into a medley of songs including Southern Stuff, The Truth, Better Days, Never Love Again and Float – and midway through the medley, it started. Hamilton encouraged the audience to put their hands in the air and if you’ve seen Hamilton before, you know it’s about that time – time to “go to church”. Going to Church is signature Anthony Hamilton and anyone who has been to his concert knows exactly what that means, and when the band played the first few bars of Float, the crowd went bananas and not just on Float, but especially on this song, the band was impeccable note after note and the guitar solo was literally beyond words. It was a good thing they were handing out Hamilton Church Fans as patrons walked in, they were definitely right on time because it was getting “hot in the Fillmore”. And then it went to yet another level.
One thing about Anthony Hamilton in concert, you just keep climbing, song after song, story after story, testimony after testimony, level after level. The next level (didn’t forget) – the background singers hit a few lines of Prince’s Insatiable. Well what did they go and do that for. Hamilton’s trio of all male background singers: James “J-Vito” Tillman, Corey “2-E” Williams, and Jack “JK” King put the “second level stank” on an already amazing concert and then the all male ensemble really began to “go to work” Anthony Hamilton style. Point Of It All, one of Hamilton’s more popular songs, followed by a few bars of Prince’s Adore courtesy of J-Vito, 2-E, and JK, and just like that, it went from a “lovers mood” to down home, southern style Chu’ch in a way that only Hamilton can, “I aint gonna hold you long tonight”, he said. “But this is my family up here and we get down together.” And get down they did. Hamilton’s “Family” includes Musical Director Kenny Leonard on Keys; Lamont McCann on Bass; Darnell “Showcase” Taylor on Guitar; Richard Jenkins on Drums; Evan Brice on Keyboard; and Tillman, Williams and King on Background Vocals (along with Wesley Copeland on Monitors, Eric Jones at FOR & Greg Black) – and as Hamilton and Family launched into Prayin For You and Pray For Me – both songs brought the house down in the Fillmore that night. Prayin For You has a twangy, southern bayou feel to it and once Hamilton brought out the tambourine, and a few of the band members, along with Hamilton and the background singers did what felt like a front line version of a New Orleans “second line” there was nothing left to do but take heed to the instructions mid-song, “You better put your hands together”. As Hamilton sung, “You gotta give it away”, and the background vocals responded “Prayer”, and the audience clapped – the Fillmore was full-tilt boogie on a spiritual journey. There is a spiritual element that is true Hamilton and it shines through in each and every concert performance. It’s bona fide and unapologetic – a testimony by a man who knows the importance of letting the world know about his “God walk”. “Here, home, bus – I’ll never come without making His (God’s) presence known – I ain’t ashamed about it,” Hamilton shared with his new Fillmore spiritual family and if the audience is any indication, Pray for me, written by Hamilton and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, promises to be another Hamilton fan favorite.
Cant Let Go, Woo and Charlene wrapped up the concert and fans politely filed out the Fillmore as Hamilton left the stage, however a few hundred fans weren’t ready to leave yet. They chanted, hollered, whistled and clapped for what had to be at least 8 to 10 minutes. About 2/3rd of the Fillmore had already left the venue, and then a most interesting thing happened. One of the background singers came back on stage, which sent the remaining crowd into a seriously massive frenzy. It sounded like the Fillmore was back to capacity. As the band began to file back on stage, it was hard to believe, that after performing for a solid hour and 25 minutes and the “break” during which the crowd chanted without ceasing, that Hamilton would come back – but come back he did. And the audience went bananas once again. “Y’all know I normally do this song with a certain lady, but she’s not here tonight, so do you think you all can sing her part?”, Hamilton asked the audience and he got his answer, a resounding “Yes!!”, as the band launched into So In Love, and on that night, those that refused to leave without hearing just one more song from Anthony Hamilton, sang one of the most intimate duets this writer has ever seen.
Anthony Hamilton’s latest CD, Back to Love drops this Tuesday, December 13th. For more information on all things Anthony Hamilton, visit Anthony Hamilton and follow him on Twitter.