BY LEROY CHAPMAN JR./AJC Music Scene
It was a perfect setting.
Outdoors. On the edge of summer. A Friday evening at Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheatre where the humidity was light, where much of the crowd arrived dressed in customary white and where Maze featuring Frankie Beverly offered up the familiar with a new reality.
The hits, we all recognize. But the Maze of this night, in 2017, after more than four decades of performing, recording, touring and preserving a standard of excellence that has earned the band a cult following, is different than the one you might remember.
Lead singer Frankie Beverly is 70, a fact he announced to the crowd. Watch the band, and you see that it’s a young 70. A 70 still capable Friday night of stalking the stage with knees lifted high and arms pumping on “Running Away,” an up-tempo favorite in the Maze catalogue. A 70 capable of powering through the ballad “We Are One,” which earned the band – mostly Beverly – a standing ovation three songs into its set. A 70 worth seeing again and again.
But it’s also a 70 that must pace itself, something Beverly playfully acknowledged midway through the show.
Beverly’s voice, strong out of the gate, started to alternate between rasp and whisper on “Golden Time of Day,” a rendition that featured a brilliant extended bass guitar solo from Larry Kimpel. By the time the band began its closing numbers – the iconic “Before I Let Go” and “Joy and Pain” – the show had transformed into less of a classic Maze performance and more of a singalong.
Beverly’s voice is no longer the star of the show.
On this night, Beverly’s apparent voice fatigue was made more noticeable by the enduring brilliance of the opening act. Eddie Levert and Walter Williams of the O’Jays, Maze contemporaries, did not waver in their delivery of the groups signature, full-throated brand of R&B that marked the 70s and 80s.
That’s not to suggest that Maze fans were unfulfilled. The band performed full and extended versions of their hits and the crowd stood for most of the 90-minute show engaged and entertained. If there is one quibble it’s this: Maze came to Atlanta and did not perform “Southern Girl,” something a few of the assembled pointed out in disappointment.
But in the end this was Maze performing for Maze people, who have kept the band touring and performing despite Maze’s last charted single being 23 years old. The band’s best known hits are all more than three decades old. And on this night those Maze people gleefully participated in the singalong and luxuriated in a near perfect night.