Akon cleans it up a bit for a packed house

Music Review

May 18, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

He was on his best behavior. Sort of. Pop-R&B sensation Akon played a packed house at Rams Head Live Wednesday night, barely a week after Verizon ended its partnership with the Senegalese star after a video surfaced that showed him simulating sex onstage with a 15-year-old girl during an April 12 concert in Trinidad.

The broadband and telecommunications company, which had promoted Akon as one of the musicians on its mobile-phone music service, said it would no longer sponsor Gwen Stefani's summer tour, which features the singer-songwriter as the opening act.

At Rams Head Live, Akon didn't seem fazed as he breezed through cuts from his two multiplatinum albums: 2004's Trouble and last year's Konvicted. He was sure not to invite a single soul onstage. But he still wanted to "party like a rock star," referring to the annoyingly popular club hit by the Shop Boyz. This meant stripping off his shirts (he wore layers: a yellow pullover, a green T-shirt and a white sleeveless undershirt) and diving into the crowd. He did that three times, delighting the house of mostly college-age women. But burly security men quickly pulled the performer back on stage before the ravenous crowd could tear him limb from limb.

Much like his albums, Akon's hourlong show was patchy. Performed by a DJ, a bassist and a drummer, arrangements of the hits were exactly as you hear them on the radio (and given Akon's popularity right now, they seem to come about every 10 minutes or so). His sonorous, melodic approach to "gangsta R&B" (the unfortunate subgenre whose lyrics center on fast sex and fast women when they're not glorifying violence and prison culture) is insanely catchy.

But Wednesday night, Akon offered disappointingly truncated versions of his hits, namely "Locked Up" and "Smack That," two of his biggest. During "I Wanna Love You," Akon's current hit, the crowd sang along, replacing the word "love" with a far less romantic four-letter word. "I'd rather y'all say that than me," he said after the song was done. "If I say it, I'll wind up on CNN again."

Afterward, Akon was joined by his protege, Atlanta singer Ray-L. Thankfully, the guy's time on stage was brief as his vocals were thin and indistinct and his stage presence boring.

Toward the end of the show, Akon dropped the forced machismo act for a moment, revealing his romantic side with the sublime "Don't Matter." The women seemed to swoon as Akon crooned: "Nobody wanna see us together/But it don't matter no/Cause I got you."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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