Sauntering to center stage, mic already in hand, Anthony Hamilton joined his band and trio of synchronized and equally talented backup men. The four singers and five-piece band, their set only two minutes old, set the Tralf stage: this sold-out R&B show was going to be a high-energy affair.
It was also to be a night of R&B boundaries smudging into other: deep soul, a little rap, and rousing gospel. There was also a heaping helping of country, in the collard greens sense. The singer, somewhat surprisingly, mixed up the set of a selection of his better-known smashes with the hits of others.
“Sucka for You,” a co-written Hamilton song on his 2011 release “Back to Love,” was stretched out into an extended and drum-led petition for love. “I ain’t too proud to care,” sang the smooth baritone on the club’s low stage as dozens of lovely and bedazzled ladies swayed and shimmied up in front.
Hamilton spoke his first words to the crowd Friday night: “Buffalo, New York, what’s up, baby?” Buffalo answered back with enthusiastic cheers and waving hands.
And then the juiced-up opening ballad slowed a tiny bit to morph into Run-DMC’s rap/hip-hop classic “It’s Like That,” a deft blending of beats. The hook worked, but the early rap song’s sobering narrative was an airborne footnote.
It was on to the glorious “Cool,” a love song about the transcendent power of love. A former backup singer himself, Hamilton democratically shares the spotlight. The singers plus guitarists line-danced the rest of the ballad to the delight of the fans, now on their feet.
Hamilton at this point cryptically mentioned his recent “photo shoot.” About a week earlier, the singer was arrested in North Carolina, his home state, on a charge of driving while intoxicated. “Don’t ride with me,” was his caveat. Side note: The soulful singer appears on the verge of tears in his mug shot.
Great things happened during swaggering “Woo,” another slice of peach pie from “Back to Love,” and the torchy “The Point of It All” with some collaging into Dr. Dre’s “No Diggity.” “How many of you feel all right tonight? How many of you are ready to get outrageous tonight?” asked the singer to unsurprising affirmations.
Hamilton and singers briefly left the stage, regrouped, and Hamilton returned. He’d changed hat and shirt and sang a lovely, low-lamp “Pray for Me” while seated on a stool.
Nearby was Buffalo firefighter Wayne Brown, at the show with his pretty fiancée. Brown came to hear Hamilton’s older power ballads. “He doesn’t need to do other people’s material,” Brown opined. During “So In Love,” the set’s encore, a song that Hamilton recorded with the luscious Jill Scott, Brown stated: “I would never lose a woman to another man.” I just met Brown, but I did not question his conviction.
Opening act Verse, fronted by longtime Buffalo singer-songwriter Michael DiSanto, played a wondrous set balancing originals and well-chosen covers. Arresting lead singer and lyricist Drea D’Nur, a lady who knows how to work the stage, announced an upcoming solo release in September. Their retooling of Bob Marley’s “War” infused some island poetry into their R&B pluck. D’Nur’s song “Beautiful,” a call to love oneself, was the set standout.