Keith Sweat: Hey girl. How you doin'?
In retrospect, a shower and a shave might have been in order.
"What you here for?" said the doorman when I arrived. "Keith Sweat," I said. He laughed mirthlessly. "You gonna be underdressed, that's for sure," he said.
After idling for a couple minutes at will-call while the clerk composed a lengthy and annoyed text-message, I tapped on the glass. She looked at me with contempt. "What are you here for?" she said. "Keith Sweat," I said. "I see," she said. "You just elected not to get dressed up?"
The owner of the club breezed by and spied me. "What are you here for?" he said. "Keith Sweat," I said. "I can't let you in," he said, "until you take off your hoodie. Is your t-shirt clean?"
The ticket taker stopped me from proceeding. "What are you here for?" he said. "Keith Sweat," I said. "You're going to have to check that backpack," he said. "Can't have you walking around like a bum."
Wednesday's show at Epic, which made many unplanned deviations from its promotional materials, was all fuse and no firecracker. DJ Hot Rock, who entertained the crowd as it amassed in coattails and juicy jeans and clouds of cologne, was a laptop DJ of moderate ability, and his mixes were the idiot-proof stuff of anyone with iTunes Genius and a Limewire account. It was an hour and a half after the advertised 8 PM show time that the first of the evenings multiple unannounced opening acts took the stage, a sleeveless, muscular man with a wireless guitar who performed needling solos ad nauseum over beats that seemed swept up from Black Street's studio and damply reheated in the microwave.
45 minutes after he had finished, the crowd had grown and Black, another opening act, took the stage to perform a hurried half-hour of smooth R n' B to an increasingly restless crowd. He handed roses to the ladies, and handled the mounting calls for Keith Sweat to take the stage with laudable grace.
After an hour more of dance music, Mr. Sweat finally emerged, shirt unbuttoned to the waist, gleaming crucifix hung just above his navel, to ooze through a set's worth of slow jams that made his name a lower-case affair in the 1990's. His voice is remarkably intact, having suffered little from the elapsing decades, still effortlessly grabbing notes off the high shelves of his register. His enthusiasm was laudable as well, and he struck an amiable onstage profile, only just lascivious enough to make him look the lech, but after so much pomp and so little circumstance, the torturous ado sapped my ability to smell through the plumes of perfume to get at the heart of this R n' B also-ran. Nonetheless, though Sweat's music was ABC gum when he made it, his performance was exact enough to keep him right where he was as a younger man-- the singer everyone in the elevator can agree on.