It is possible that there were other people onstage last night when Maxwell began singing his cover of Kate Bush's ethereal "This Woman's Work." But the moment the R&B singer eased into the first cooing high notes of the fragile ballad, everything in the Opera House that wasn't encompassed in the mists of his aching falsetto sigh vanished in some sort of soul-induced hysterical blindness. The crowd, especially the women, erupted with an explosion of the type and volume of screaming usually reserved for an Oprah Winfrey giveaway show.
Maxwell earned every one of those shrieks and sighs with a spectacular comeback performance that made clear the only thing he's lost in the six-plus years he's been laying low is his Afro.
Attired in a tux, with bowtie rakishly untied, Maxwell slid, spun, and thrusted his way through the lush ballads and crisp jams that made him a star on the neo-soul scene of the late '90s with a self-assured ease.
(One thing he's clearly been doing during his break: squats.)
The crowd did its part chiming in on the smooth, never-raunchy come-ons of tunes like "Lifetime" and "Sumthin' Sumthin'," careful not to drown out the elegant contours of a voice so clearly cultivated through years of singing along with Marvin Gaye and Prince.
With the crackerjack aid of a hot ten-piece band - including a three-piece horn section that doubled on backing vocals - Maxwell also, almost guiltily, previewed a few songs from his upcoming trilogy of albums, "Black Summer's Night."
He needn't have apologized. New tunes like "Pretty Wings" were of a piece with his sexy back catalog, drawing positive reactions to the crisp backbeat, and to the sentiment of not holding onto someone too tightly. Maxwell also wisely sandwiched each new tune between beloved oldies.
Graciously, with a stunned sincerity, he repeatedly thanked the audience for remembering him and the songs.
The band, of course, made itself known throughout the night, with tasteful flourishes, from the percussionist expertly wafting neck-hair-raising chimes through the sultry "Was My Girl" to the bass player laying down smoky riffs that seemed to slide like quicksilver around the slinky funk of the new tune "Bad Habits."
Guys, if your lady went to the show last night and isn't home yet, you may want to check the floor of the Opera House, where more than one woman was observed dissolving into a puddle of soul-powered bliss.
Opener Jazmine Sullivan got the fires burning with a short set that showcased her irrepressible personality - especially on the woman-scorned opener "Bust Your Windows" - and her seductively husky voice.