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Brian McKnight 

Allen Theatre

Brian McKnight
with Eric Benet
Allen Theatre
February 3

Brian McKnight and Eric Benet both sing R&B and possess wide-ranging voices. But their performances at the Allen Theatre couldn't have been more different from each other. McKnight, the headliner, was all about putting on a bigger-than-life show, using lots of visuals (video monitors, dancers, costume changes), while Benet took a humble approach and performed with little fanfare. Although neither artist broke any new ground, both McKnight and Benet proved that they could sing with passion -- and that's the most important thing for an R&B show.

Dressed casually, in loose-fitting pants and a tank top, Benet, who was barefoot when he walked out onto the stage, took a low-key approach to his show. Through both his music and his banter with the sold-out crowd, he tried to spread positive energy. Benet, who is engaged to the Cleveland-raised actress Halle Berry, mentioned her when he introduced the ballad "Spiritual Thang" by asking, "Have you ever been in a relationship where God just put you together? You are the yin and she is the yang? I got that in my life right now." While Benet's down-to-earth approach worked well, his six-song set was too short to really enable him to establish a rhythm.

McKnight arrived from a mechanical door that opened up from underneath the stage while a video of him in cowboy hat and leathers (making him look like the Marlboro Man) showed on the big-screen monitor. Trying to come off like Prince, McKnight played a little guitar and keyboards when he wasn't busting out the dance moves with his cadre of dancers. His best move, however, was the subdued reading he gave a religious song he said his mother used to sing to him. Unaccompanied, McKnight let his supple voice -- not theatrics -- send chills, and his set could have used more moments like this. -- Jeff Niesel

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