In the middle of Jazmine Sullivan's sold-out show Tuesday at the Theatre of Living Arts, she asked her family to make some noise - and met with screams from the entire venue.
"There's a lot of y'all!" she said with a laugh.
And the R&B songstress' show was a family affair. Despite the red smoke, backup singers, and jazz band, there was a sense of intimacy, of being in her hometown. Family, fans, and fellow artists such as rapper Chill Moody and neo-soul duo the Kindred Family Soul, all Philly natives, were in the audience.
Dressed in a jumpsuit with a sparkling belt and with curly hair framing her face, Sullivan was a lioness with a powerful roar. She dipped and swayed her hips, using her fingers like accusing daggers as she led into "Dumb," a song about a cheating partner and one of the breakout singles on her third studio album, Reality Show.
Sullivan laughed off a brief wardrobe malfunction and launched into "Bust Your Windows" and "Lions, Tigers and Bears" from her first album, Fearless, belting the lyrics, "I'm not scared to perform at a sold-out affair."
To a very responsive, enthusiastic crowd, Sullivan gave a powerhouse performance of "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)," from her second album, Love Me Back, segueing seamlessly into a version of "Killing Me Softly" in homage to the Fugees (and Roberta Flack).
Women belted out Sullivan's lyrics gospel-style, and the men mumbled along while looking at their phones. It's OK, fellas: Embrace the feeling.
Sullivan also addressed her 3-year hiatus from music, telling the audience that it was caused by an abusive relationship. From there she went into "Let It Burn," singing, "I think I found the love of my life." Next came the fist-pumping anthemlike "If You Dare."
Sullivan slowed it down with the acoustic "Stupid Girl" from Reality Show, a song warning women to be careful whom they lend their hearts to.
The audience was quiet as she leaned forward as though in warning to all the women present, crooning "please just don't be dumb."
Sullivan got personal with "Forever Don't Last," a sign-off from her tumultuous relationship. Her ad-libs drove home the point: "It was so hard to let go. . . . And I loved that man but he wasn't right. . . . But I had to choose to love myself more." She tearfully dedicated "Masterpiece," a self-love ballad, to her late aunt.
She ended the night with "Need U Bad," the tune that launched her into the R&B spotlight in 2008; and the vocally climactic "In Love With Another Man."
While music aficionados discuss the future of R&B, Sullivan's strong, rich vocals and great storytelling prove we need her badly.