Say what you will about him, but Chris Brown knows his audience.
On Wednesday night, during the opening moments of the R&B superstar's concert at FedExForum in Memphis, he asked the near capacity crowd how many ladies were present. Seemingly, all of the nearly 8,000 in attendance responded with deafeningly enthusiastic screams.
Then, with a grin, he asked to hear from the men in the crowd; barely a smattering of sound came in return. "There's about 10 of y'all in here," said Brown, laughing. "But I still appreciate you comin' out."
That Brown, who's certainly had his share of controversy when it comes to females -- namely his 2009 battery of former girlfriend, singer Rihanna -- remains so popular with women is testament to an successful if not always smooth rehabilitation campaign, his considerable onstage charisma, as well as an unbroken string of radio hits, including those off his most recent album F.A.M.E.
Following a series of opening sets from the likes of rappers TYGA and Bow Wow, plus an entertaining tongue-in-cheek selection of club bangers from Auto-Tune kingpin T-Pain, it finally was Brown's turn to show himself.
With a big screen countdown clock pushing the crowd to a fever pitch (heights not seen since last year's Justin Bieber FedExForum shriek fest), Brown emerged through the top of a three-story stage working a series of pop-and-krump dance moves to the strains of "Wall to Wall" and "I Can Transform Ya."
Perhaps the most impressive sight, however, was the set itself: a multi-tiered, LED-lit structure that nodded to the sleek futurism of "Tron," while also employing a jungle military theme.
Aided by a live backing band, a DJ and troop of dancers, Brown's concert was a broad, if sometimes mildly clunky, production -- essentially a series of dramatic set pieces, built around bedroom enticements like "Body 2 Body" and "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)."
Throughout the night Brown's forays into amateur dramatics were designed to underscore his various strengths and personas: as an urban pin-up, a dangerous lothario, and a misunderstood star. There were also attempts to make a case for his emerging creative legacy as well, with Brown connecting himself to his idol Michael Jackson at various points, particularly on the MJ-sampling "She Ain't You."
Though he worked through the many corners of his catalog, working up a sweat on several uptempo party numbers, Brown seemed to shine most on the ballads, singing with a clarity and purpose that was a pleasant respite from evening's dazzling artifice.
Much of the show was carried along by the banter and turntable work of DJ Babey Drew, who guided several oddly long interludes while Brown changed outfits -- his ensembles ranging from a camouflage uniform to an eye-catching neon suit, though predictably, he spent much of the show stripped to the waist.
Whatever minor issues there were with the pacing of the show, it was hard to argue with the results, as Brown's effort ultimately had the intended effect: sending thousands of Memphis women home satisfied.
-- Bob Mehr: 529-2517