A real love fest between Cool J and the ladies

Music Review


True to the handle "Ladies Love Cool James," the longtime hip-hop star was greeted at Sunday night's concert at Rams Head Live by legions of adoring fans: Among those waiting to see LL Cool J's muscled form and assured stage presence, a starstruck woman eagerly showed off her cell-phone wallpaper, exclaiming over a photo of herself with him. Posters bearing his ripped torso were launched from the stage and fluttered down into eager female hands.

A few minutes later, after a thunderous bass boom and a three-minute video montage, LL burst onstage with unrelenting energy, kicking off an hourlong set of his hit songs and trademark ladies'-man charm. He kept the crowd of hundreds of women - and their boyfriends - bouncing, thronging and screaming as they waved their arms and set their thumbs and index fingers in a tributary L shape.

Before an audience of about 1,000 that skewed heavily toward women in their 30s, LL played the major hits from his 21-year career - stretching as far back as 1985's "I Can't Live Without My Radio" - while sprinkling in tracks from 2004's The DEFinition and this year's Todd Smith, his 11th full-length album.

LL worked both sides of the stage and even the balcony as he flashed his charismatic smile, tossed kisses, roses and white towels to shrieking female fans and gradually - but not completely - disrobed. Like a latter-day Tom Jones, he was occasionally bombarded with women's undergarments, which he considered with mock shock before draping them over the letters "LL" on his custom mike stand.

Up-and-comers Luke & Q opened with a 25-minute set of mostly slow grooves that blended well with LL's rapper-as-romantic identity. The New Orleans-based duo harmonized and crooned their way through recently released singles "My Turn" and "Ya Heard Me."

The evening, though, belonged completely to LL. The opening montage spliced together clips from his music videos and declared him a "Fighter ... innovator ... entertainer ... lover ... pioneer ... legend," but the show's self-celebration was slight, particularly by modern hip-hop standards.

Instead, 38-year-old LL - born James Todd Smith in Bay Shore, Long Island, N.Y. - held attention with an easygoing dynamism and nearly balletic muscle control as he pumped his fists, slapped his chest and seductively licked his lips. He consistently displayed the commanding stage presence that has served him equally well in films such as Deep Blue Sea, Any Given Sunday and S.W.A.T.

Then, of course, there was his chiseled upper body, which drew as many hoots as his biggest singles when he slowly peeled off a white Todd Smith T-shirt (from his own clothing line) to reveal a sleeveless tank and two bulging shoulders.

"It was exactly what we needed: hot, sweat, sexy," 33-year-old Dina Ewers of Mount Washington said after the show. "He should have taken his shirt all the way off. That was the only thing that was missing."

Recent hits "Headsprung" and "Hush" drew huge reactions from crowd members, who jumped up and down to the songs' heavy syncopated beats. LL invited a handful of women onstage to dance with him during "Doin It"; they pawed at him lightly as he filmed the rest of the crowd with a hand-held video camera. He politely beckoned women again for "Control Myself," saying "Come on up; don't be scared," as he led them by hand up the sides of the stage.

LL's almost peerless staying power as a hip-hop artist was evident in a fan base that spanned generations. Rochelle Seawell, 45, and her daughter, Latasha, 26, of Northwest Baltimore both danced with him onstage in an intimate brush with fame.

"I got his sweat all over my body," said a giddy Rochelle Seawell, who also got a kiss on the forehead after a few moments grinding with LL. "I'm not gonna take a shower."

"I'm gonna hear about this all month," Latasha Seawell said. "No, all year."


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