July 2, 2016


Essence Fest 2016: Maxwell Reminds Us Why He's One of Our Greats

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for 2016 Essence Festival
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for 2016 Essence Festival

From the moment it became apparent Maxwell was to headline Essence Festival 2016 the same day his anticipated blackSUMMERS'night album was released, assumptions were made. When Maxwell started releasing new cuts off the album daily leading up to Essence Fest, we figured our assumptions were confirmed; Maxwell wanted us to know the new songs because his Essence set would be filled with them, right? Not quite.

Instead of focusing on new music, the R&B vet decided to run down his impressive résumé of hits and classics. Outside a lively performance of his latest single "Lake By The Ocean," Maxwell pretty much stuck to songs a majority of the diverse audience were sure to connect to, especially in a not-very-intimate venue like the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Plus, when an artist has been away as long as Maxwell has, the best way to convince people to listen to your new music is remind them why they love you in the first place.

Highlights of the night: Urban Hang Suite single "Sumthin' Sumthin'" and its alternate version off the Love Jones soundtrack, and a moving Prince tribute via a retooled "Nothing Compares 2 U," a recreation of his tribute to The Purple One from last week's BET Awards. Seeing and hearing it in person was quite an experience.

"Ascension" had most of the Superdome bopping, "Fortunate" turned into a giant sing-a-long, and Maxwell's stirring, signature Kate Bush cover "This Woman's Work" got an extended, and somehow even more haunting, intro.

Maxwell's 2009 album BLACKsummers'night got a lot of love, too. "Bad Habits" is now a Maxwell show staple (and rightfully so) but a clever rework of album cut "Love You" was a fun surprise. Maxwell subtly used the song's lyrics to apologize for such a long wait (seven years!) between projects. Later the crooner closed his show with the always-welcome "Pretty Wings," as couples of all ages seemed to slow dance as they made their way to the exits.