Grammy winning singer/actress Jill Scott brought her Budweiser Superfest Summer Block Party to Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Wednesday. The lineup included Charlotte native and resident Anthony Hamilton, Minneapolis-based R&B group Mint Condition, DJ Jazzy Jeff and host Doug E. Fresh.
Mint Condition warmed up the crowd, although many music fans were still filing in the gate while the opening act was on stage. During set changeovers Fresh served as emcee while Jeff cut through snippets of `80s pop, hip-hop and R&B jams. The excellent team transformed what’s normally downtime into a must-see segment. It’s too bad they can’t work every concert. It played into the block party vibe, although I imagine a true block party might be better staged downtown or even at Symphony Park.
Jazzy Jeff ran through hits by Bobby Brown, Bel Biv Devoe, and hip-hop classics like “The Breaks” as Fresh provided comic relief by breaking into dated dances associated with the tracks. Fresh also touched on his own rap and beatbox career and closed the set with his amusing take on “Teach Me How to Dougie” which he changed to “Doug E” (adding "I am Doug E!").
The concert marked Hamilton’s third Charlotte show this year after headlining at CIAA and opening for Prince in March. If a Grammy winning soul singer is going to call Charlotte home, Hamilton is a great ambassador. He’s a classic, but fun throwback with a lot of personality who doesn’t sound like his contemporaries. He also appeared humble and shared the spotlight with his band, especially the trio of animated backup singers that oozed charisma throughout the show.
His brownstone-like backdrop added to the block party vibe. Dressed in white with bright red high tops, his set relied heavily on his last album “The Point of It All” with tracks like “Cool.” When his 10-piece band launched into the title track almost every woman in my vicinity sprang to her feet and chorused “That’s my song!” Older tracks like “Charlene” and the Prince-like falsetto that capped his set were met with similar swooning. But it was the gospel tinged “Prayin’ for You/Superman” that served as the pinnacle of his set. It began as a rhythmic, tambourine-driven boot stomper and gradually rose into a full band revival bringing the audience to its feet. Hamilton ran through the crowd and danced like Michael Jackson’s loose limbed scarecrow from “The Wiz” - an arm dance that was part Hindu goddess/part breakdancing worm and later his wide jelly leg pounces across the stage (I find what I call “crazy dancing” with original moves quite endearing – it made me take a second look at Natalie Merchant in her 10,000 Maniacs’ days, Michael Stipe, and Mary Chapin Carpenter in her “Down at the Twist & Shout” video as a kid).
Following the most efficient, entertaining set change I’ve ever witnessed (with much of Scott’s band’s equipment rolled in on one long riser and Fresh and Jeff’s roof-raising set), the headliner made her way to the mic in a sparkling, short dark blue dress and heels (pictured at her DC concert above). Following the openers “Shame,” “Gimme,” and the scat-like spoken word of “Quick” she traded her heeled boots for baby blue high tops and invited Doug E. Fresh on stage to beatbox as she launched into Slick Rick’s “La di da di.” The surprise track ignited the crowd. Scott proved a formidable emcee and the nod to Fresh’s history added to the party vibe. He wasn’t the only guest. Following 2007’s “Hate On Me” and the 2001 hit “The Way,” Hamilton returned, this time in glasses and head to toe black, for the warm duet of their current hit “So In Love.”
After the darker “Le Boom Vent Suite” Scott delved into the jazzier portion of the show aided by electric upright bass, horns, bongos and congas. This section included the spoken word of “Womanifesto” and the song “Rolling Hills,” which closes her latest album “The Light of the Sun.” Bopping horns and a conga solo helped transition the direction back toward soul for her hit “A Long Walk” and a medley of ballads that included “Cross My Mind.”
In the years since Scott, who has lost 63 pounds over the past two, co-headlined Queen Latifah’s Sugar Water Festival at Verizon in 2005, she’s evolved from stately earth mother to sassy diva. I remember her set back then being fairly chill with her usually stationed at the microphone draped in layers of fabric. Six years later she carries herself with a confidence and style that better matches her voice. She’s gone from singer to entertainer. The show was filled with engaging performances, although the sound could’ve been clearer. Subtle flourishes and dynamics so pronounced on record can get lost in the mix of loud 10 and 11-piece bands. But the vocals were always spot-on. With this accomplished cast there was really no question that they would be.