Review: Maxwell at the Kennedy Center


Twenty-three years after Maxwell dropped his album "Urban Hang Suite" he continues to belt out powerful notes, serenade absolutely anyone, all while moving around the stage like someone half his age. As a long time fan, I would never have dreamed of combining Maxwell's serenading sound with the National Symphony Orchestra; the results were spectacular. Set in one of the beautifully lit Kennedy Center orchestra halls in line with his colorful style, Maxwell sang with his heart on his sleeve all evening.


Through the entire set, Maxwell delivered dedications to accompany most of his songs, with one of the first being a performance of "Lifetime" for the unjustly imprisoned: "We live a free creative life, but not everybody gets that chance. And this song goes out to those who are inside and deserve to be outside with us here tonight." Shortly after, Maxwell dipped back into his seductive ways with a fantastic orchestral version of "Whenever, Wherever, Whatever" that the audience could not help but sing out the chorus of in a beautiful display of spontaneous harmony. In fact, many times during the concert Maxwell invited the crowd to sing along, adding that "after 23 years of this, I need a little help from you guys." The show was a cellphone-free event and the connection between every charmed audience member and Maxwell's powerful voice was tangible because of it.


And while "grateful" is a word oft used by artists, it always feels so genuine coming from Maxwell. He thanked the audience, the orchestra, and the accompanying musicians frequently - even thanking Kate Bush for being the original writer of his famous cover of "This Woman's Work" before performing it in honor of an audience member who had completed her last round of chemo in her fight against cancer. Maxwell's adeptness in delivering reminders of how fortunate we are were always seamlessly interwoven with the set list. His gratitude for having been able to touch so many people - a testament to the sold out show and the large fan-base that continues to stay so loyal after so long - was palpable.


Before performing his song "Gravity: Pushing to Pull," he joked about the poor reception of the album saying, "some of you thought I had gone crazy," but said he still wanted to perform a song from the record. The National Symphony Orchestra's many instruments truly brought this record to life, elevating the piece from its standard studio version. "We Never Saw It Coming" was a sorrowful interlude that also seemed to express Maxwell's sentiments with a troubled world, and also serves as a perfect testament to how his music remains relevant and evocative without fail.