Live Review: Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly in Brooklyn
Thanks to the various assortment of free concerts and once-in-a-lifetime events, New York City is fast becoming a summer spot as desirable to occupy as Miami Beach or Cancun, or at least a great reason why New Yorkers don’t have to leave town for escapism. Brooklyn is the epicenter of free concerts from June t0 September, thanks to vast array of extended festvals from Celebrate Brooklyn! to the Afro-Punk Fest. Perhaps one of the most high profile, and thus highly anticipated event is the Martin Luther King Concerts Series at Wingate Field. Since 1983, Wingate Field has been witness to performances from The O’Jays, The Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Patti LaBelle. As of late, they’ve attempted to appeal to a younger audience, with artists like John Legend and Robin Thicke. To kick off it’s 29th season, Maze and Frankie Beverly blessed us with their catalog of classics songs and peerless musicianship.
Coming out in their customary all white outfits, the band from San Francisco, by way of Philadelphia, were a symbol of purity and simplicity; two key ingredients to their longevity. Speaking of which, after a hearty overture from the band, out walks Howard Beverly, a man known to his army of followers as “Frankie,” adourning his all white outfit and omnipresent white baseball cap, a companion that’s been with him longer than some of the his current bandmates. The Brooklyn audience immediately showed their love, fueled by their anticipation (two previous attempts at booking Maze at Wingate were rained out).
By the time they reached their second song, “Southern Girl,” the crowd was no longer mere observers, but participants in the concert, singing at the top of their lungs, organizing mass dance lines. From mellow classics like “Can’t Get Over You” and “The Morning After,” to crisp dance cuts like “Running Away” and “Back in Stride,” fans were in a massive altered state of euphoria. Time has frayed Beverly’s voice some – understandable after 40 plus years of non-stop touring – but on this hot Monday evening, it was to minimal affect, as his instantly recognizable charcoal baritone seeped into the pores of all those in attendance (“charcoal” is a double entendre; so named for the warmth of his vocals and the fact that Maze’s music fits best when played during a summer Barbeque).
Halfway through the concert, Frankie addressed the audience, revelling in the fact that he’s 64 years old – a statement met with thunderous applause – and still, literally, jumping around and singing on stage to a large crowd of devotees. “You all keep coming back,” Beverly said. “We have a cult following.” Maze has been referred to as the “Black Grateful Dead,” for their ability to tour constantly and command a high volume of concert goers without the benefit of a current album or single. During his crowd convo, he spoke of his admiration for the late Marvin Gaye, the man who discovered them at a bar in San Francisco in the early 1970’s, not to mention convincing them their former name, Raw Soul, “wasn’t happening” (Ironically, Maze’s 1989 tribute to Gaye, “Silky Soul Singer,” was not including during the set). Before heading back into the show, Beverly confessed his early frustrations with being ignored by various Award Academies, even expounding on “the black awards,” like BET, failing to recognize the band. “I was mad for a while, but I realized it’s better to have a reward than an award.”
Spirituality has always been an underlining element in Beverly’s compositions, through themes of unity and reverence for something outside of yourself. Such essence was in full displace when the first notes of “We Are One” were played, prompting the thousands to first exclaim a celestial outcry of joy, followed by instinctively raising one finger to the sky, causing the song to transcend the ideal of two becoming one, but many becoming one. Then came Maze’s closing trifecta of explosive divinity: “Happy Feelin’s,” “Joy and Pain,” and “Before I Let Go,” each song simultaneously evoking Saturday Night and Sunday Morning emotions, gyrations, dancing on and in between chairs, creating four different groups of Electric Slides, and inspiring a 10,000 strong background choir. And just when you think it’s over and everyone is utterly drained, Maze returns to give props where props are truly do, singing “I Wanna Thank You,” Frankie’s love letter to God, and perfect segue to next week’s Gospel Night. Needless to say, it’ll be hard to top this show this summer.
1) “Laid Back Girl”
2) “Southern Girl”
3) “I Want To Feel I’m Wanted”
4) “We Are One”
5) “Can’t Get Over You”
6) “Running Away”
7) “Golden Time Of Day”
8 ) “The Morning After”
9) “Back In Stride”
10) “While I’m Alone”
11) “Happy Feelin’s”
12) “Joy & Pain”
13) “Before I Let Go”
14) “I Wanna Thank You (Encore)”