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Keyshia Cole bares soul, bonds with fans at show

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Keyshia Cole bares soul, bonds with fans at show
Keyshia Cole delivered a heartfelt performance in front of a sold-out crowd at the Orpheum Theatre on April 2. (Photo: John Brewer)

The uninitiated realize early on that seeing Keyshia Cole live isn’t only a concert, it borders on a group therapy session. The singer has built a ferociously loyal following with a catalog of love-gone-wrong tunes that are firmly rooted in the blues tradition of RandB. Cheated on and lied to, Cole experiences the most treacherous lows of love in her music. Combine that with the intimate view of her family life provided by her stints as a reality TV star and it’s understandable how Cole’s fans became so locked in. She has made a career of giving voice to heartache. For her audience, she is the friend who has been through it all and understands your pain. And they love her for it.

And at her show at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre last Tuesday, she showed that the love was mutual. Diva hairdo intact, sporting a powder pink jumpsuit, she entered the venue through a side door and walked through the crowd waving and touching hands before joining her four-piece band and four dancers on stage. When she reached her Kanye West-produced hit “I Changed My Mind” and was drowned out by the energetic crowd, it was easy to see that this would be the start of an all-night singalong. Very much a part of her generation, the RandB singer hit the stage with a hip hop aggression mixed with a brilliant showmanship. Bedazzled mic in hand, she took her devotees through almost a decade’s worth of her hits.

The Oakland, Calif., native understands her role in leading the therapy session, too. Even though the now-happily married mother is not in that place of negativity that her early releases were built on, she realizes that her fans may not have moved on. Cole commanded the stage as the embodiment of the strength she seemingly came to share with the crowd. At one point she even stopped the show and offered a passionate prayer for fans’ well-being, success and happiness. When she went into “I Should Have Cheated” and her signature song “Love,” they felt more like hymns than urban pop records.

Her ‘around the way girl’ stage presence was infectious, with her banter on stage a mix of testimony and telling it like it is. Later in the show, she shouted out various neighborhoods in Boston — a well-worn trick for performers, but with Cole, you got the feeling that she has actually been to them.

Drawing a sold-out crowd in a town that offers little radio support is an accomplishment. One gets the sense that if Cole ever reaches pop superstardom, it will be because the pop audience loves her music, not because she courts them. In a world where RandB stars are chasing success by seemingly jumping on every fist-pumping track available, Keyshia Cole is an unrepentant RandB star. Her love and skillful execution of her music is what has her turning in top-drawer performances like this.

Opener Chrisette Michelle wouldn’t seem like the perfect fit for a Cole tour on paper. But no one bothered to tell the classically trained soul singer that. She deftly used her time to make the crowd into believers in her neo soul-leaning RandB. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the next time she swings into town she gets top billing.

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