Maxwell held his concert at newly opened Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk to promote his new album, “blackSUMMERS’night” on July 9 (Sat), only 8 days after both album release date and venue’s grand opening date. Going to Maxwell’s concert was always my dream as his fan since his debut, but my schedule had never matched with his concert dates in New York City. Fortunately, I was available on July 9 that time.
I had one big hesitation. Coney Island is very far from my home in the Bronx even same New York City. The Bronx is in the north and Coney Island is at the southern end of New York City, totally opposite side. I would have to take about 3 hours passing through Manhattan.
But Maxwell is not exactly an active musician with taking 7-8 years interval between albums since his third “Now” album in 2001, meaning there had been the long intervals between his tours as well. Because of that, I thought that was the time for me to go to his concert. If I missed his concert again, when would be the next opportunity? Even at this time on July 17, New York has not been scheduled with his tour date yet. Also, 2016 is his 20th year anniversary since his debut with sensational “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite”, that would be a homecoming show for the Brooklyn native musician, and one of the opening series at Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk . Plus that was the show after the tragic death of Prince, who gave great influence to Maxwell. I thought he would do something for Prince on stage. I had an expectation that his concert would be very special.
And I was right. That was one of the best concerts I’d ever attended. Probably I would hate myself if I skipped that show just because of distance.
MAXWELL CONCERT WITH SPECIAL GUEST RO JAMES
The supporting artist of that night was Ro James, who had a hit song “Permission”. Ro James’ performance was just poor. The given time Ro James had was only 30 minutes, so he should put importance on singing more than talks. But he talked a lot. And the majority of Ro’s talks was about his grown up with similar subjects. The audience didn’t want to know about his life at that point because they came to see Maxwell! In that tough situation, he should appeal about himself and amaze audience by his singing and songs. His vocal and songs were only his weapons in the venue with many people who didn’t know him yet. A group of females behind me talked each other with being bored “Does he wanna sing or talk? We all came to a concert, not his talk show!” and I had to agree with her. If Ro sang well, we might not have that impression. He looked like he was singing soulful, but the fact was his voice wasn’t stable and didn’t reach the audience with his emotion. And he even ended up his 30 minutes while he was singing his only hit song “Permission” at last and the light was turned on in the middle of singing. When he was singing “Permission”, Ro put his head into female vocalist’s skirt. Even his time was ended, he kept singing and brought his kid to the stage. And he missed a chance to thank the audience. Not only he couldn’t show his talent to the audience, but also showed his unprofessional behaviors.
Ro James should know what the role of supporting act was. He had to prove himself as much as fueling up the audiences for the upcoming main act. The audience would naturally remember the supporting artists if they did an amazing job, and that would lead to their future success. Ro James did none of them.
After 30 minutes preparation for Maxwell’s show, very high, famous intro rang from the speakers when the light was suddenly turned off. That was “Kiss” by Prince! I thought Maxwell would do something for a tribute to Prince, but from beginning! That was a surprise with a good song choice. The pre-opening changed from “Kiss” in the complete darkness to a black-pride themed film featuring black legends such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Ms. Rosa Parks. The screen changed to current Maxwell, young Maxwell with afro….then finally real Maxwell showed up on the stage. Maxwell kicked out his homecoming show with “Everwanting: To Want You To Want” from his second “Embrya” album.
What I was surprised about Maxwell from the beginning…he didn’t drop down his voice’s key at all and sing just like his albums. He uses a lot of high tones and falsetto with his recordings. It is difficult for many men to keep those types of voice so I thought it would be natural if he dropped down some keys on the stage. I wouldn’t be disappointed even he dropped down his key. The truth was Maxwell maintained same key, same high tone, and same falsetto on entire his show. Plus his voice was thicker than his albums and stable all the way during the concert. His voice was so soulful and emotional more than his albums. Maxwell had the superior voice made even all men at the venue excited. I couldn’t help but applaud about his amazing vocal skill entire the show. He should have a very strong throat. And I am sure he has had a lot of vocal training throughout his career. For real, that should be tough as hell. I would never be able to sing like him!
The following video is a good example of his fantastic vocal technique. It’s “This Woman’s Work”, a few song after the opening. His voice was as high as Kate Bush.
The concert’s keyword was definitely “beauty”. Maxwell maintained the beauty of his music world on the stage. If the audience sought the beauty of Maxwell’s music expressed on his all albums, Maxwell didn’t betray them. The fountain of his music beauty first came from his voice, then combined with the beautiful sound by his band, the beautiful screen displays, the beautiful lighting works, and beautiful sound quality of the amphitheater.
Yes, his band and background vocalists did a pretty fantastic job as well. The band’s instrumental plays were professional, stable, and beautiful. I especially liked the beautiful guitar work by Hod David, who had been making music together with Maxwell since his debut. Hod David didn’t come to the center and always played his guitar on the left side of the stage, but he showed he had taken an important role on composing Maxwell’s beautiful music.
His songs were mostly from his previous albums in his 2 hours performance. If it’s not my mistake, only the song he played from his latest “blackSUMMERS’night” was its smash hit “Lake by the Ocean”. I think it was a nice decision because the concert was only after 8 days of the album release date and meant more than supporting his new album . Many people might not know the new album yet. The concert’s song list was well balanced. His hit songs and uptempo songs were perfectly mixed with his slow jams which let the audience deeply listen to his beautiful voice and songs.
Maxwell changed many songs’ arrangement a lot. And he changes some slow songs to uptempo. Changing arrangement is actually risky because it’s either successful or losing fans. In other words, the artists can show their talents by changing arrangement if successful. Maxwell’s case definitely worked positively. He succeeded to fuel up the audience by changing the arrangement, as well as showing his brilliant music skills.
And as much as I (and probably all other audiences) expected, Maxwell paid a tribute to Prince. After he said this year has already been so harsh by losing many great artists, the Prince’s song he sang was “Nothing Compares 2 U”. That was a perfect choice because Maxwell just sang that song at BET Awards on late June, and I think he sang better on the stage than BET awards. His voice was soft, kind and emotional…so beautiful. He really touched audience’s heart. One thing for sure, all of us, including Maxwell, the audience and I, wish he wouldn’t have to sing Prince’s song as a tribute. We all wish Prince was still alive and his great endless talent would continue.
The audience was pretty much 50% females and 50% males. The majority were couples, but there were many same gender groups as well. Even the couples, both sides of each couple were obviously Maxwell’s fans, not only one side. It was impressive to witness both women and men were all excited with their pure smiles! The majority of audiences was Black. Many of them dressed up their nice summer clothes! It was a comfortably elegant atmosphere.
The audience also gave Maxwell the moment they were loyal to him. When the intro of his hit song “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” from the first album started, everyone stood up with shouted and started singing. Maxwell didn’t ask the audience to sing. That naturally happened. Obviously, Maxwell and his band supposed to pause soon after the brief into, but the audience didn’t stop and kept singing. I didn’t miss Maxwell’s surprised face. I was sure that wasn’t his action but honest reaction. And the audience had a nice voice! I think many of them regularly sing in their church. That was a nice harmony. Maxwell requested the lighting technician to turn on the light because “he wanted to see the crowds”, and he sang the hit song under the lights. He couldn’t hide his excitement about the success of his homecoming show when the song was finished.
Yes, Maxwell is a Brooklyn boy from East New York, one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York City. He sometimes told the audience he was from East New York and used to take J train. If so, maybe around Alabama or Van Sciclen Avenues? I always amaze such a beautiful and dreamy music came from the tough streets.
Maxwell moderately talked during his show. He was a very nice talker and occasionally made his audiences cheer up. And he was definitely a smooth talker to the female audience! His frank and friendly manner gave us a good impression.
The encore was “Pretty Wing”, a hit song from the last “BLACKsummers’night”. At the finale, Maxwell let his background band members introduce themselves to the audience. Many artists nowadays tend to cut the encore and introducing the band members. Both are good, and I liked the way Maxwell finished his show. Both Maxwell and his band deserved to get maximum applaud from the audience at last.
The venue was filled with very positive vibe when the concert was finished. I was filled with a long lasting fantastic feeling like afterglow, and that made me feel I really loved music. I think that was same with other audiences. The outside of the amphitheater was not “lake by the ocean” but heavy “rain by the ocean”. The rain didn’t cease our positive feelings. Many of us had to emerge to beach shacks from the pouring rain on the way to their cars and a subway station. Some people played Maxwell’s songs from the speakers of their smartphones to continue their wonderful concert memories. Some couples embraced each other with talking about the concert. The moment of “rain by the ocean” was like a part of Maxwell’s beautiful show. Maxwell’s concert was definitely one of the best for me. Everything was just perfect. Maxwell’s voice, his band and background vocalists, the song list, the sound quality, his talk, the length of the concert, and the audience. They all created Maxwell’s 20th-anniversary concert in his hometown very special.
- THE HIGHLIGHT VIDEO OF MAXWELL’S CONCERT
READ MORE ABOUT MAXWELL
CONEY ISLAND AND FORD AMPHITHEATER AT CONEY ISLAND BOARDWALK
After a long subway ride for 2 hours and a half from the Bronx, I finally arrived Coney Island. That was a summer Saturday evening but the weather was cloudy. The street in front of the station wasn’t crowded.
The last time I visited Coney Island was two years ago. Nothing much was changed since then.
The new Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk was about 5 minutes walk from the subway station. Nice to feel beach moment by walking on the famous boardwalk.
Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk was a brand new venue opened on July 1, 2016, but they used a portion of an old building built in 1920’s.
Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk had about 5,000 seats. The venue was broader than I imagined, so probably the audience could see the stage from the backside rows on 300’s (my seat was just in the middle of the venue in 200’s). The amphitheater was equipped with some food vendors such as Nathan’s, beverage areas, and ample bathroom spaces. The amphitheater was completely covered so there was no worry about the rain (though you’ll need jacket other than summer). In fact, the outside was heavy rain when the show was over, but many people didn’t notice about the rain until reaching to the exit.
My personal problem of any amphitheater is, because I’m not tall (5’7), the musicians are not clearly visible if there are taller people in front of me. The height difference between each row is not much at many amphitheaters, and this venue is also same. Too bad the person in front of me was tall. I like theaters better. I hope I can see Maxwell at Beacons Theater or Radio City Music Hall next time.
Regarding the sound quality, which is the most important part of a music venue, it was very good and clear at Ford Amphitheater.
DINING IN CONEY ISLAND
I dined at two popular places in Coney Island that time.
Nathan’s hot dog is the most famous and popular restaurant in Coney Island, conveniently located in front of Coney Island subway station. Established in 1916, the legendary hot dog joint celebrates the 100th anniversary this year.
This hot dog stand is only good for experiencing the famous location. I really can’t recommend the store. First, the serving system was very inefficient. Usually, the cashiers and food handlers are different to make the system efficient and serve fast at the fast food stores, or the cashiers go to food containing after taking multiple orders. Nathan’s didn’t. Each cashier took one order, went to prepare the orders and takes a long time, came back, then finally took another order. You can imagine that their serving was very slow. Each cashier took the average of 5-7 minutes between receiving the orders. Though the restaurant wasn’t crowded and each line was not long when I visited, I waited about 15 minutes to order my items. I saw many customers gave up and left without ordering. Although the taste was just average, the price was pretty high. A soda and a chili & cheese hot dog were about $8.50. There was no combo menu.
Wahlburgers was the restaurant I wanted to visit next time I visited Boston area. Wahlburger was originally established by a popular actor, Mark Wahlberg, in suburban Boston where he was from, and now expands its store network.
I didn’t know Wahlburger opened the store in Coney Island. In fact, I found the store after leaving Nathan’s before going to Maxwell’s concert. I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it visit after the concert because the store would close at 11 p.m. according to their website. I tried and visited the restaurant around 11:15 p.m. after the concert and they were still open and crowded. The restaurant told me they would change their closing time according to the situation. Good thing! I ordered a double burger, french fries and soda (I was hungry!). They didn’t have combo menu either, and everything was a la cart.
The food was nice. Burger was better than Shake Shack but less than Umami Burger. French fries was actually very good! One of the best I’ve ever eaten.
One thing they need improvement is their menu design. That was disorganized and hard to see the detail. Burgers and side orders were mixed up on their menu.
(PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ACCESS TO CONEY ISLAND FROM MANHATTAN)
D, F, N, Q subway lines to Coneys Island (the last stop of all trains). D is usually the fastest.