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A Maze of Nostalgia

September 3, 2013

by Marcus J. Moore (@MarcusJMoore)

Midway through his headlining set at Verizon Center this past Saturday, Maze frontman Frankie Beverly stopped to survey the crowd. 

"How many people are seeing us for the very first time?" he asked to decent applause. "That's amazing. Actually, that's a damn shame. We've only been together 45 years or so."

The mood was noticeably nostalgic this past weekend, with Beverly and Maze, The Isley Brothers and Kem bringing their Bounce TV Summer Music Festival to the nation's capital. Though the summer is almost over, the warm feelings flowed throughout the arena as the singers peppered the audience with recognizable songs from their respective catalogs. The mostly middle-aged attendees were there for Ron Isley's raspy falsetto, Beverly's delicate baritone and Kem's "quiet storm" ethos. The fans got what they wanted for the most part, though there were certain hiccups along the way.

Those missteps came during The Isley Brothers' set. Shortly after 8 p.m., Ron and his brother, Ernie, took center stage with a fierce rendition of "Fight the Power," the group's first single from its 1975 album, "The Heat Is On." The instrumental was compelling, but Ron's worn voice collapsed beneath the song's stampeding drums and furious guitar riff. That was followed by a raucous version of Isleys favorite "Who's That Lady," which felt a bit strident coming from the Verizon Center's monstrous sound system. 

 The Isleys finally hit their stride midway through the performance, rolling out a whispery mashup of "Make Me Say It Again Girl" and "At Your Best" atop a sparse musical backdrop. "Summer Breeze," punctuated with Ernie's hair-raising guitar solo, reminded us why the Isleys are rock/soul royalty. Such goodwill was dissipated when Ron re-emerged after the song in full "Mr. Biggs" attire and lip synced his way through abridged versions of "Down Low" and "Contagious."

At 9:45 p.m., Maze introduced itself with an expansive funk groove. It was broad, synthetic and rooted in the electro-soul aesthetic for which the group is known. With the opening notes of "Southern Girl," a standout from 1980's "Joy and Pain," the septet quickly established a euphoric tone and sustained it throughout the set. 

Even when Beverly paused to discuss the band's history, you didn't feel slighted. Instead, it was rather refreshing to hear the 66-year-old elaborate on Maze's humble beginnings in Philadelphia and struggles for relevance in San Francisco. The monologue preceded a hypnotic version of "Golden Time of Day" and its intricate guitar solo from Jubu Smith. Fans danced in the aisles as Maze performed massive favorites "Joy and Pain" and "Before I Let Go." In the end, it didn't matter if this was your first Maze show. Hopefully, it wasn't your last.