Maxwell brings that Sumthin’ Sumthin’ to Stockbridge Amphitheater



Maxwell showed Saturday night why he will always be a permanent invitee “to the picnic.”

The soulful crooner combined the swag of a mid-tempo troubadour with the smooth, understated sexiness of the guy next door into a 90-minute set that had women at The Bridge — Stockbridge’s renamed Stockbridge Amphitheater — swooning for more.

Running through a string of hits, including “Fortunate,” “Sumthin’ Sumthin’ ” and his signature “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” Maxwell evoked the vocal mastery of Luther Vandross and the sensuality of Marvin Gaye. It was one of those concerts where finger pops on the beat were a must if you wanted your hips to sway with everyone else’s.

For the uninitiated, being invited to the picnic is, in the Black vernacular, proving your authenticity to belong in the community. It’s the equivalent of bringing sweet potato pie for dessert -- a definite yes for the Black picnic -- versus bringing pumpkin pie, an absolute no-no.

Maxwell, 49, kicked off the night with the breezy “Sumthin’ Sumthin’ " from his 1996 debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.” He sang the song from a platform built toward the back of the stage, teasing the sold-out auditorium for what was to come.

Dressed in a skull cap, sunglasses and a two-piece outfit that shimmered in the lighting, Maxwell had the audience out of their seats from the beginning of the performance, the first of two over the Mother’s Day weekend. He plays again at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Stockbridge venue.



He followed his opening with the silky come on “Dancewitme,” the slow-burner anthem to trying again “Lifetime,” and “Fortunate,” the perfect pre-Mother’s Day ballad and his love letter to women.

“Fortunate to have you girl/I’m so glad you’re in my world/Just as sure as the sky is blue/I bless the day that I found you,” he sang in the chorus as women in the audience responded with “Amen.”

To show his versatility, Maxwell took on Heatwave’s 70s classic “Always and Forever,” which he has said at past concerts is his favorite song. It’s a tune that requires a baritone in the beginning and a high-wire closing falsetto. He went after both and only faltered a bit on the high notes, which would have been a noteworthy feat if successful given how long one has to sing at the top register. (We’re talking Earth Wind & Fire Philip Bailey highs, and even he can’t reach them these days).

He also made room for his band to play after belting out “Off” and the Prince-like “Pretty Wings,” allowing them to demonstrate their mastery of the piano, guitar and drums.

“Shout out to all the real musicians tonight, because it’s weird it’s not like that no more,” he said.

He closed with the uptempo “Get to Know Ya” and “Ascension,” on which he didn’t have to sing much -- the audience was gamely willing do that for him.

“So tell me how long/How long it’s gonna take until you speak, baby/Cause I can’t live my life/Without you here by my side,” the audience rang out in unison after Maxwell had his band to cut the music.

And for those who wondered, missing from Saturday’s set was a perennial favorite of many, “This Woman’s Work.” Maybe that will be a surprise for Sunday.

Opening for Maxwell, was Marsha Ambrosius, who got the audience ready with a fantastic set that was equal part vocal dynamism and lighthearted creativity. It’s always tough to be the opening act and hold the crowd’s attention while concertgoers are still looking for their seats.



But the Brit singer was more than capable with a 45-minute show that saw Ambrosius singing Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies,” Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” and a snippet of Prince’s “Beautiful Ones,” as well as her own “Late Nights & Early Mornings.”

When she shifted to her “La La La La La” she got a chance to play with the audience as the song’s chorus builds to Minnie Ripperton’s five octave shout on “Loving You.” When the appropriate time came after ‘do, do, do, do, do,” she let the audience try its hand at hitting Ripperton’s famous high-pitched squeal.

Ambrosius ended with her own hit, the soulful, piano-based “Far Away,” a somber ode to the death of a friend who died by suicide.