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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Live: Ne-Yo

The R&B star keeps chivalry alive.

February 09, 2009|Mikael Wood

You know we're in the midst of a serious economic crisis when an R&B star includes the ability to pay one's bills on time in his list of what he looks for in a lover. Ne-Yo voiced that desire (along with many others) Saturday night in the first of two shows at downtown L.A.'s Club Nokia, where he introduced "Miss Independent," his recent radio hit, as a song about "the kind of woman who want a man but don't necessarily need a man."

Delivered by another of R&B's six-packed sex machines, "Miss Independent" could be an ode to the casual hook-up. After all, it's a lot easier to sneak out in the morning if her emotional investment doesn't outweigh his.

Yet over the three albums he's released since 2006 -- including last year's Grammy-nominated "Year of the Gentleman" -- Ne-Yo has cultivated a different character: He's the dude who recognizes a woman's hopes and dreams (occasionally as his own), the guy to whom autonomy and commitment make perfect bedfellows.

That sensitivity to the female perspective has earned Ne-Yo a lucrative sideline writing songs for women; Saturday he sang snippets of Beyonce's "Irreplaceable," Rihanna's "Take a Bow" and Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight," all of which function like memos from the desk of Miss Independent.

He was no less understanding performing his own material. In "Mad," he sang about not wanting to go to bed before resolving a fight, while in "So Sick" he described his reluctance to change an answering machine's outgoing message, as it afforded the only opportunity to hear his ex's voice.

The singer threw a towel into the audience after the latter tune, then made sure that the man who caught it intended to give it to his girlfriend. At a Ne-Yo concert, chivalry is expected offstage as well as on.

Fortunately, a little show-biz razzmatazz was on the menu as well. Flanked by six backup dancers, Ne-Yo pulled off some impressive moves throughout his 80-minute set, particularly during "Nobody," in which he appeared to be imagining Michael Jackson doing Bob Fosse's iconic choreography from "Chicago."

And though the eight-piece band relied to a disappointing degree on prerecorded backing tapes, unexpected flourishes kept popping up that made the music feel fresher than it might have: "Single" featured a tart soul-funk horn chart; "So Sick" received a sly rocksteady makeover; "Closer" sported a hard-rocking electric-guitar solo straight out of the "Beat It" playbook.

Near the end of the show, Ne-Yo told the capacity crowd that it had made him feel appreciated -- not loved, not more powerful than a golden god, but appreciated.

Like his line about paying bills on time, that's about as reasonable a pop-star declaration as you're likely to hear these days.

Right now, though, no one's better at making the sensible seem so sexy.

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calendar@latimes.com

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