Keith Sweat steams up a Target Center full of grown folks

Keith Sweat

Keith Sweat David Sherman

It’s Friday night and security at the Target Center is practically nonexistent.

There are no entitled young ’uns drinking underage or way overdoing it or breaking stuff or sneaking where they don’t belong or fighting or puking or what-the-hell-ever. All those brats are elsewhere, and Keith Sweat, K-Ci and Jojo, 112, and Ginuwine are here. The night belongs to the grown folk, and every babysitter in the Twin Cities must be booked.

This is old-school R&B now – the music of the ’90s, not Lena Horne or Stevie Wonder. There's something about hip-hop style and culture from that time that made for lovely R&B that’s fun and silly and sexy and cute and soulful and buttery smooth … and grown. Everyone loves it, and the songs we’ll hear tonight are the songs you’ll hear everywhere – your aunt’s wedding, a club at 1:30 a.m, an eighth-grade dance, everywhere.

Ginuwine starts the night, his bedazzled shoes sparkling in the stage lights. He sings “Differences,” revs everyone right up with “Pony,” then leads us though a Michael Jackson medley that includes “Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough” and “Billie Jean.” He closes his set by carrying a bouquet into the crowd to say thanks for the support and the memories, handing out roses like a high school grad being sweet to his aunties.

That schoolyard-sweetheart charm continues with 112. In matching white pants, t-shirts, and navy blue blazers they dance in unison to their first track, “Dance with Me,” and they just keep on dancing. Slim sings lead but the other three cycle through to the front -- to belt a verse or snap with a solo over a chorus like their voices are saxophones – then return to the back where they twirl and twist and make smooth-R&B open-hand or finger-point gestures as one. On the slow and sexy “Cupid” and on the eternal party jam “Peaches and Cream,” 112 sounds like a band of boys helping their buddy get the girl despite her skeptical girlfriends or strict parents.

Ginuwine roved through the crowd a little, but K-Ci takes an entire lap around the Target Center floor, slapping five and giving hugs while JoJo stands stationary at center stage and sings backup. K-Ci reaches past our hips and hearts to create a spiritual connection. “I know, I know, I know,” he sing-talks as he passes the stage, his trusty JoJo standing melodic guard behind him. “I know Donald Trump is in the White House… but God is in the right house.”

This is the singalong segment of the night, and the drummer hammers thunderously to make each return to the chorus more exalted than the last. The duo lead a hopping rendition of “How Do You Want It?” before things slow down with “Tell Me It's Real” and “Crazy.” Then “All My Life” begins. Like choir and congregation, everyone -- like, everyone -- joins in on that the sweet refrain. All! My! Life! K-Ci and JoJo make the passage of time feel worth the journey. They leave the crowd warm.

The three openers established a mood that’s sweet, fun, and spiritual, like a nephew that’s done right by the family, and all these years later still shows up to family functions with a proper smile and kiss for everyone. They brought the crowd back to the ’90s, a time when they were young(er) and carefree(-er).

But Keith Sweat is here to welcome us to the Sweat Hotel: It’s packed, hot, and steamy, and it reminds the crowd of all the exploding hormones that came with their youth and freedom, that desire to get down and dirty like the grown folks. Uncle Keith steps on the stage and gone goes all that kiddie shit. “Fellas,” he seems to say to the crowd, “why don’t you stop talking? Keith’s here to handle the rest.”

The only set design of the night is introduced: two sofas and a bar with drinks and stools. Keith doesn’t trek around the room – he brings people in, up with him on stage, onto the sofas and stools, seducing everyone in the arena. During hits like “Nobody” and “I’ll Give You All My Love,” he edges the crowd past nostalgic excitement, past jumping up to say I know this one, to simply hip-moving.

Sweat isn’t here to thank his fans for decades of support. He spends nary a moment speaking to the ups and downs of his career, his life, his loves. He gets right to it, asking if the ladies are all right or making fun of the guys for needing his help. Sweat’s the guy who’s flying high and stops into the barbershop just to show off and give and get high fives. You can’t help but crack a smile and slap five and cheer him on. He’s too charming.

Women randomly come on stage, Sweat will scold one for walking in his way, then take her hand to twirl her and get a look at her figure. He has nothing to say about the passage of time: When the lights go off, age is but a number, and his job is to get us to the funk we all need till our hyper-awareness about age or any other insecurities are gone.

This night is clearly for the grown folk to turn out, and out they turn. The youngest in the crowd are in their 30s, and women that central casting would hire as grandmothers or retired school teachers dance barefoot in the aisles. Security asks one woman to go back to her seat, and she laughs, like, “child…” and the security person walks away. She’s grooving side to side as the DJ keeps it going between acts.

Oh yes, the DJ. For a younger crowd today a DJ will spend no more than a minute (if that) on a song before cutting to the next, and the most consistent sound between sets is a mournful, yearning gasp -- aaaaahhhhwww!!! -- when a song everyone likes stops while the DJ demands more energy, teasing us. The grown folks at Target Center Friday don’t have time for that garbage. They are out tonight, so play that damn song they want, and play the whole thing so the couple can get their whole entire dance on.

And they do get it on. And it is gloriously grown.

Critic's bias: I like any circumstance where phrases such as “Well … well, well, well,” or “Can I get a witness?” are used excessively.

The crowd: After crossing through the metal detector, while waiting for my friend, I realized I was staring at the naked, at least 50-year-old breast of a woman in the next line. The man she was with touched her arm and gestured in my direction. She fixed her elegant forest-green floor-length dress, affixing a few buttons that had popped loose, and the couple looked at me, both smiling. The crowd? Grown, fun, black, and sexy.

Random notebook dump: Ginuwine, 112, and K-Ci and JoJo all ended their sets with huge emotional proclamations and formal, Broadway bowing and hand-clasping – you know, high in the air, like a champion boxer. So sweet. Keith Sweat just sang his last song and walked off like a coffee-chugging closer. He’s awesome. A blinking red “does-not-compute” sign goes off in my brain whenever I try to imagine the sex he was having from the late ’80s through the turn of the century – and probably right up to this very moment.