When does an artist’s offstage life crowd out what’s he doing onstage?
Nowhere in pop music is that question more plainly confronted than during a Chris Brown concert.
The embattled, controversy-courting R&B singer made his first North Texas appearance in four years Wednesday, making up a previously postponed date on his “Between the Sheets” tour with Trey Songz.
It’s been more than six years since Brown assaulted former girlfriend and fellow pop star Rihanna at the 2009 Grammys, leaving an ugly aftertaste in the mouths of many music fans and forcing the music industry as a whole to take a long, hard look at the sorts of behaviors it tacitly condones.
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One of the most bizarre and discomfiting moments of the 2014 Grammys came during an extended public service announcement about domestic violence, with remarks from President Barack Obama and a performance from Katy Perry, with Brown, nominated for three awards and watching it all from a seat in the audience.
What is most upsetting is that disconnect between Brown’s reprehensible actions and the lack of any discernible consequence.
Sure, his songs were pulled from radio for a time, but he’s continued to tour, record and collaborate with a host of top-shelf R&B and hip-hop talents (Pusha T, Juicy J, Nicki Minaj and T.I. are among the stars who’ve enlisted Brown since 2009).
And yes, the occasional legal hiccup — like the community service requirement which caused the initial Dallas date of the “Between the Sheets” tour to be pushed back a month or the inability to enter Canada to perform — might prove frustrating, but by and large, Brown’s as active, and judging from the shrieks and outstretched smart-phones on hand Wednesday, as popular as he’s ever been.
Shaking the queasy feeling is tough, which is unfortunate for someone like Brown, who clearly has talent.
The 25-year-old Virginia native is co-headlining this current jaunt with Trey Songz, and the pair took turns Wednesday giving the screaming crowd plenty of sex and bass, each turned up as loud as they could go.
Situated on a two-tier stage, flanked by back-up dancers (Songz employed females, while Brown utilized males), and backed by a mostly unseen live band, the two singers worked through their hits — Say Aah and Bottoms Up for Songz; Wall to Wall, Run It and Strip for Brown — and spent more than two hours amid smoke, lasers and restless digital images.
Brown can still move his limbs as if each has a mind of its own — re-watch his classic, 2007 MTV Video Music Awards performance to be reminded of his astonishing capabilities — and his voice, as lithe and limber as he is, likewise shifts from singing to rapping (his tongue-twisting verses during Look at Me Now were impressive) with ease.
Songz’s pealing falsetto is a nice hook, helping spice up lyrics that are otherwise about as sexy as a Yelp! review (“Baby, why don't you make yourself comfortable/While I go and put this tongue on you,” he crooned during Slow Motion).
With each artist getting roughly equal time to shine, and only briefly sharing the stage together, neither Brown nor Songz emerged having fully swayed the crowd — although it seemed as though Brown got the more enthusiastic response.
So Wednesday night was entertaining enough, a solidly mid-level arena R&B show, overloaded with low end and packing a polished visual presentation.
The long shadows the evening couldn’t shake lingered just offstage, the specter of Brown’s violent past (and his not exactly-untroubled present) hanging over everything, making something designed as slick escapism feel more like slimy, exquisitely staged denial.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713