maxwell_web.jpgMIAMI — Attending a Maxwell concert is akin to an out-of-body experience. The energy floating to and from the stage surpasses the typical singer/audience exchange, and hints of a hypnotizing aura that pulls even male fans under his spell.

After a nearly eight-year, self-imposed hiatus, Maxwell has reemerged on the music scene with a new, critically acclaimed CD, “BLACKsummer’s Night.”

On Friday, July 31, he brought his promotional U.S. tour to the American Airlines’ Waterfront Theater.

Maxwell had the packed house in the palm of his hand well before he appeared on the stage for his 90-minute performance, yet seemed genuinely surprised at the number of people who came out to see him.

“You’ve supported me for so many years. Thank you,” he said, later sharing, “I can’t believe this is happening tonight.”

In a decidedly “grown and sexy” show, the sensuality that oozed from him, verbally and nonverbally, felt inexplicably tangible. Sort of like leaving church after an especially satisfying Sunday morning sermon – the kind that lingers for hours, maintaining your heightened mood and forgiving demeanor well into the evening.

Bouncing back and forth between his current CD and his older, now classic releases, Maxwell’s passion for what he does was evident. To the maniacal delight of his mostly female audience, Maxwell literally embodies his music – smoothly. He danced and swayed spontaneously, succumbing to the rhythm with a slight pelvic thrust here, a subtle gyration there, even lying prone to demonstrate a man’s occasional submissiveness to his woman.

His poetic “Pretty Wings,” had the audience on its feet, singing along to the tune about a man brave enough to admit that because he messed up, he was compelled to release his woman so that she can “see clearly the way that love can be when you are not with me.”

The 36-year old from Brooklyn is keenly aware of the affect his music has on women, playfully announcing that the second half of his show was the “greatest set-up.” Maxwell warned the men in the house that they were on their own if they did not score with their women after the show, before rendering his intoxicating version of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful,” and some of his sexier tunes, including “Fortunate,” and “Til the Cops Come Knocking.”

Gratefully, Maxwell cannot disappear on us again any time soon, since Columbia records wisely signed him to deliver a musical trilogy; “blackSUMMER’s night” is due in 2010 and “blacksummers’ NIGHT” in 2011. While his absence certainly made hearts grow fonder, to deprive fans of his essence for another eight years would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Opening for the sexiest, most authentic male singer alive today was newcomer Chrisette Michele. My only complaint about Michele’s set was her use of pre-recorded background vocals. As a serious fan of live music, my expectations for a live performance included live bodies offering harmonious accompaniments, available for spontaneous give and take with the artist.  Lack of background singers notwithstanding, Michele gave a fantastic show, the perfect appetizer for the evening’s main course.

Dressed demurely in a flowing white and blue sleeveless number, Michele spent 40 minutes demonstrating why she is the real deal. With a voice that comfortably crawls from a low, smoky tenor to brilliantly controlled soprano melodies, the 26-year old is earning space among Ella and Aretha, scats and all.

Acknowledging her mature audience, “make some noise, grown folks,” Michele appeared at home on the stage. A brief a capella rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” was touching and classy. Her impersonations of John Legend, Erykah Badu and Anita Baker were both funny and dead-on. My scalp and arms tingled with goose pimples when she sang “If I Have My Way,” accompanied only by the piano.

Michele told the South Florida Times in a July interview that she was selected as the opening act because Maxwell wanted a performer that would complement his show.

She did.

Photo by Sayre Berman. Maxwell