Lenny Kravitz came to the Fillmore in New York City Sunday night to blow out the birthday candles for Let Love Rule, the breakthrough debut album he released 20 years ago.
He’s barely aged a day since, though the same could not be said for his sweaty, sold-out audience. They were generally over 35, frequently in turtlenecks, and almost universally, profoundly drunk, which abetted the gentle arrhythmic bobbing that proved their rowdiest civil disobedience. Has there ever been a rock show that didn’t stink of weed two songs in? Yep, this one — a disappointing fate for the official Lenny Kravitz rolling papers, retail $5, that sat lonely and unloved at the merch table.
The common perception in the pit was that Kravitz would perform Let Love Rule in its entirety. He didn’t, but pulled liberally from it, beginning with the lite-funk bombast of “Freedom Train,” on gradually through “Flower Child” (which still rang slightly too low for his keening register), and then to the title track, which motored with stately classic-rock propulsion, a reminder that before he became an innocuous guilty pleasure, Krativz brimmed with the promise of adventurous ’60s psychedelia/’70s soul alchemy.
Regardless, Kravitz knew how to deliver a slickly choreographed show, from the pulsating arena lights, to the sunglasses whipped off mid-set, to the flirtatious banter.
“We haven’t done this song in the States in forever,” he purred halfway through, smoothing his flannel shirt. Considering this come-on preceded “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” one of his biggest hits (off sophomore 1991 LP Mama Says), he was likely being hyperbolic, but the crowd flew firmly into his pocket nonetheless. “Wow, I can’t believe he’s actually playing this for us!” yelled a nearby dude.
A lengthy Earth Wind & Fire-esque funk jam with Kravitz at the keyboard was followed by a mid-set slow jam interlude abundant in saxophone solos and material from 2008’s It Is Time for a Love Revolution. The apex of this was “Dancing Til Dawn” — not because it disclosed his enthusiasm for women, DJs, and where the twain shall meet, but because he veered midway into a long breakdown, during which he interpolated lines from classic songs into his own music. “We don’t need no education/ We don’t need no thought control/ Like a bullet from a gun.”And, “Billie Jean is not my lover/ She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one/ But the kid is not my son…Like a bullet from a gun.” Woof.
From there, Kravitz climbed back through his greatest hits catalogue, including the happily, reliably raucous “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”
Then, through the smoke and screams, he disappeared from the stage, a lone spotlight shining on his electric guitar.