Ashanti, Ginuwine - Celebrity Theatre - 5/9/2014

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The vibe of last night's Celebrity Theatre concert was certainly "Grown and Sexy" -- as the name of the tour suggests. It had handcuffs, leather, hip thrusts, sweaty towels, dozens of roses, and two R&B artists who've probably made your bedroom play list in some former life (even if it was a not-so-sexy hairbrush-karaoke sleepover in eighth grade -- guilty).

The lineup is initially a little anachronistic, but when you look at their pop culture peaks, the two intertwine. Ginuwine saw the bulk of his success in the late '90s and early 2000s. Ashanti came on the scene in the early 2000s. She was the first female artist to hold the top two places on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart at the time, and she tied another record by having three songs in the Billboard Top 10 in the same week (only the Beatles had achieved this previously). There was a time when she was often mentioned in the same sentence as Beyonce and Alicia Keys. It's science and basic statistics -- this show seems tailored for people who were music consumers and main decision makers in CD purchases between 1999 and 2003.

Ginuwine has been performing just over 20 years. Ashanti has been recording for about 20 years too, though she got her start when she still could have been performing with a hairbrush at a sleepover (that's 14 years old, by the way). Point being -- these two are on equal playing fields at this point in their careers. The only difference on stage is that Ginuwine is a performer comfortable in his skin and Ashanti seems to be going through an artistic and professional shift, with a lot to say about life and the recent release of her first independent album, Braveheart.

Let's start with Ginuwine.

Ginuwine is a performer, a ham in a white suit. At the show, UrbanAZ auctioned off a signed guitar for $700 while Ginuwine posed with audience members for $20 prints (according to an audience member whose date purchased one). He had some air sex with a girl in the front row on two occasions and threw roses and incited hair-pulling fits over his sweaty towels. He knows how to work the crowd and negotiate his way into adoration. It's intoxicatingly fun to watch.

Ginuwine and his six-person band took the stage in all-white outfits and launched into a medley covering Ginuwine's discography ("Same Ol' G"/"Hell Yeah"/"Trouble"/"Only When Ur Lonely"/"When Doves Cry"/"I Know"/"I'll Do Anything/I'm Sorry"). He worked the audience, particularly one blonde in a red dress who welcomed/encouraged serious hip rolls in her face (later in the show he returned and she beat on his abdomen -- it seemed as Chippendalian as it sounds).

After gauging the crowd, which was on his side from the get-go and hanging on his every note at this point, Ginuwine and his two backup vocalists took turns serenading the audience. The idea was for Ginuwine to prove he wanted all the ladies and they wanted him back -- even more than his sweet-voiced counterparts -- or it just could have been a cute intro to the song "Stingy."

After buttering the audience up with some Marvin Gaye, Ginuwine took the first of many trips into the glittery crowd, and was immediately pulled under by a riptide of arms (at one point during the situation he mentioned, albeit coolly, his wife). When he resurfaced, he launched into Michael Jackson's "Lady in My Life."

After a quick mention of his other recording project TGT (his group with fellow R&B artists Tyrese and Tank that released its debut, Three Kings, last year), Ginuwine took things to a calmer place with a song he said he hadn't performed in a while, "Heaven," off Elgin.

The dance moves picked up with "So Anxious" and the entire theater was ready to power through "In Those Jeans," during which he held front-rowers' hands and afterwards threw half a dozen roses into the crowd.

The whole show felt like a crowd-appreciation night, but Ginuwine took a few seconds to ask everyone to light up the theater with his or her cellphones. Lit up or not, the crowd launched into the first few verses of "Differences" on cue and without Ginuwine's lead. The last show of the night could have only been and was "Pony," after which more roses were tossed into the crowd and Ginuwine left the stage so his band could jam a little.

After a long intermission (maybe it was just an hour), Ashanti came on, two minutes before 11 p.m.

Ashanti, sporting short-medium blonde locks and clad in a sexy little black leather two-piece and flanked by sultry backup dancers, walked out to the intro of her new album Braveheart, and performed a medley of songs ("Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)"/"What's Luv?"/"Happy").

This set the tone for most of her song performances, which were often played just long enough to be noticed and sang along to before she moved onto the next one. It was a little like that friend who skips through songs after they've heard "that part that they like." Every now and then the music would stop so Ashanti could riff about her personal life, the importance of raising awareness about domestic violence, how much she hated cheaters, and (twice) to make sure the audience was listening to the lyrics of the next verse. Often, she would just stop or slow a song so she could end a cappella on songs such as "The Woman You Love." The songs and the intro/interlude verbiage seemed mutually cathartic, so the loose script and half-song/medleys didn't stop fans from singing along or getting into whatever 30-second preview was up next.

The most "Grown and Sexy" (and wholesome, if we're talking song length) part of Ashanti's show involved a few props -- folding chairs, audience members, blindfolds and handcuffs -- during her steamy new record "Early in the Morning" and "Girlfriend." Yes, there were lap dances. Yes, one guy got a lap dance from the giggling, newly bad girl Ashanti herself. The show went back to micro-songs after another important message about the toxicity of side chicks after which she launched into "She Can't."

After getting the wrap-up sign, Ashanti worked in two songs off Braveheart, and an accolade-riddled intro to a song that really needs no introduction to anyone who could sing along during the rest of the show -- "Foolish."

Click to the next page for set lists and Critic's Notebook. Ginuwine set list

"Same Ol' G"/"Hell Yeah"/"Trouble"/"Only When Ur Lonely"/"When Doves Cry"/"I Know"/"I'll Do Anything/I'm Sorry" "Stingy" "Let's Get It On" (Marvin Gaye vs. Ginuwine mix) "Lady in My Life" (Michael Jackson cover) "Heaven" "So Anxious" "In Those Jeans" "Differences" "Pony"

Ashanti set list

Braveheart Intro "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)"/"What's Luv?"/"Happy" "The Woman You Love" "Rain On Me" "Runaway" "Baby" "Early in the Morning" "Girlfriend" "Down 4 U" "She Can't" "Only U" "Always On Time" "Count" "I Got It"

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: "Grown & Sexy 12: Ginuwine & Ashanti" at Celebrity Theatre

The Crowd: Ladies amazingly able to dance without popping out of their "freakum" dresses or twisting an ankle in their strappy heels. Physics!

Personal Bias: I always felt weird for never being an Ashanti fan while most of my friends in high school wore shirts that proclaimed her as the princess of hip-hop.

Overheard: "Too many damn stairs!" -- one of the aforementioned women in short skirts, high heels.

Random Notebook Dump: From the parking to the photos and the, hello, auction --there was a lot of cash being exchanged for a concert to which general admission only cost $10.

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