Anthony Hamilton and Fantasia Barrino played a thrilling sold out show at LA’s 7100 seat Microsoft Theater last Friday that took the audience to church, the club and everywhere in between. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
Hamilton played a soulful set heavy on romance—the crowd was mostly female—that showcased his timeless and agile voice. He leaned on the classics here, including a gorgeous run through ‘The Point of it All’, a slow-to-midtempo groove that let him really stretch out vocally.
‘Best of Me’ gave strong steppers set vibes, and got the already frenzied, howling crowd on their feet. Hell even a shy guy like me busted out some toe taps and neck snaps.
‘Charlene’ is probably my favorite of his songs, and I wasn’t disappointed. He sang the demons out of that song, a slow burner about lost love and disappointment. It’s probably his most vulnerable work, and at points he looked to be on the verge of tears.
Let’s talk about the Hamiltones, Hamilton’s background singers—I use background loosely here—whose voices, stage presence and easygoing attitude nodded toward absolute star potential.
Their pitch perfect, doo wop-inspired backups on ‘What I’m Feeling’ were just the first of several attention grabbing features from the trio. Their shining hour came during one of Hamilton’s costume changes.
They ran through brilliant, meme-inspired tunes, the best of which was a rib/homage at Birdman’s ‘respek’ incident about a month back. With lyrics ripped directly from the infamous radio broadcast, they flipped an embarrassing moment for Birdman into a gospel soul stew, thick, catchy and hilarious. The audience was caught between cackling and marveling at the group’s impossibly tight harmonies.
Hamilton’s voice has always nodded toward a depth of feeling most singers can’t approach. Ever since he burst onto the scene with the Marvin-in-the-70s inspired ‘Coming From Where I’m From,’ social issues and daily malaise have been front-and-center-in his music.
The most powerful moment in this set was when he sat by himself in the middle of the stage, spotlight shining. He sang about a topic always on the minds of the mostly black crowd: police violence against black children. He pulled us through aching, heartbreaking lyrics about death and regret, building to a gut-wrenching climax: ‘stop killing our babies.’
Fantasia Barrino is one of my favorite performers. I’ve spent untold hours YouTubing her live performances, hoping one day I’d get the chance to see her shine live. She gave me everything I needed.
Barrino mixed hits from her extensive catalogue with some barn-burning and cerebral covers. She absolutely devoured a stripped-down performance of ‘Summertime,’ a song that has opened countless doors for her in both pop music and Broadway.
Looking stunning in a custom gown, she ran through a jazz-infused portion of her set she says was inspired by her undeniably successful time in America’s theater-capitol. Barrino flipped one of her biggest hits, ‘Bittersweet’, into a swinging affair. I’m sure this is blasphemy in some corners, but I put her vocal talents right up there with the greats of jazz’s best era, the Ellas, the Ninas, the Billies.
Fantasia’s hits sounded incredible here. Her Missy Elliot-Kelly Rowland collaboration ‘Without Me’—one of my favorites—absolutely knocked on the theater’s state of the art sound system. Here Fantasia asked if she could get ‘rachet’, a vibe she doesn’t too often pull out. It absolutely worked and left me wanting more rachetry.
Another highlight was ‘Free Yourself’, an early hit she worked here into a near-dirge, draining every last bit of feeling from a song already heartbreaking in its cool kiss off.
Fantasia’s biggest strength is her ability to mix catharsis with strength, bravado with absolute vulnerability. There maybe isn’t a singer of her stature who lays herself more bare in front of the public, no one ‘realer.’ The end of her set forcefully hammered that home.
Following a touching and lively Prince tribute, she debuted a brand-new song, one with clear, unflinching allusions to her very-public affair with a married man. This was her strongest moment, a gut bucket, 6/8 stomp through a song with lines like ‘I’m sleeping in the wrong bed.’ It was absolutely incredible.
I’ve always thought of Fantasia as one of the only true modern soul singers. She blends gospel with rhythm and blues, mixes the church’s high-minded modesty with soul-baring sexuality. I left the theater on an absolute high, ready to give my love and money to this absolute American treasure.