Fantasia made a triumphant return home Tuesday for the final date of her pre-holiday “Christmas After Midnight” Tour. While the idea of an artist abandoning 75 percent of their catalog in favor of holiday standards seems like a recipe for disappointment from a fan’s perspective, the Charlotte-based singer pulled it off fantastically, making Christmas her own.
She framed the set with the ongoing story about holidays with her grandparents, performing songs they would’ve listened to on their turntable in the ’60s and ’70s – with a close ear to capturing the sound of the era – and steering clear of overplayed Christmas tunes we’ve heard (and sang) a million times before.
Fantasia said she wanted to do something different for this tour, that someday she wanted to be remembered as a performer who could do anything. Wearing a sparkling black evening gown with a pleated cape over one shoulder, she channeled juke joint jazz and blues, celebrating the era with Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” The crowd roared as she strutted across the stage while covering James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” another selection you won’t likely hear as background music in your local Hallmark store.
She introduced her foray into classic blues, jazz and soul, flashing her diamond engagement/wedding bands. She was no longer Fantasia, she said. She was Mrs. Taylor – a reference to Kendall Taylor, her husband of two years. The crowd howled in approval as she simultaneously paid tribute to Taylor and explained in song why her grandmother repeatedly forgave her alcoholic grandfather with “Sleeping With the One I Love.”
Yet the “Christmas After Midnight” Tour wasn’t about what goes on once the lights go down. It was about the turmoil leading up to the holiday, mistakes made and met with understanding and patience, and support from family who turn up in droves.
What made the story work so well was its relatability and her charming, funny delivery. She didn’t paint a perfect picture of yule logs and ice skating. Fantasia’s Christmas was real.
She told the story through her mother’s eyes, as a child who’d dress up in her grandmother’s finery and dance when her dad showed up drunk and wanted to listen to records. While introducing “Bittersweet,” she acknowledged that her grandfather hit her grandmother, rendering their love bitter where it was once sweet.
Seguing into “Lose To Win,” she noted her own losses, shunned materialism, but added that her family never went without on Christmas. The theoretical exchanging of the gifts was followed by a Southern-steeped Christmas dinner of “Collard Greens & Cornbread” – another hit. As her Charlotte guitarist Shago Elizondo wailed on a blues lick, she called him out for his soulful playing despite his light skin, then pondered what his family eats on Christmas. “Enchiladas,” he replied to her amusement.
She moved on to an impressive sing-along portion, where she cast sections of the audience as the choirs of John P. Kee, Hezekiah Walker, Elevation Church and Kirk Franklin, pitting them against each other. Franklin’s won.
The liveliness continued through “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Da Butt,” proving that the E.U. anthem goes over even at a holiday show.
Fantasia may have shaken her rump barefoot by that point, but she kept it classy, even when tactfully calling out security. “Let these people have a good time,” she pleaded.
Toward the final run of songs, she took a serious turn when she talked about her 24-year-old brother Xavier – still hospitalized, recovering from a summer motorcycle accident; then she belted out Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” aided by Charlotte choir Dennis Reed & G.A.P. (Reed played an encouraging, animated sideman.)
“Thank you for letting me do something new,” she gushed after two closing gospel numbers and her rendition of “This Christmas. Yet there was really no need for thanks. With such a grasp and vision for her leap into the unknown – a holiday tour – fans trust that they can follow her lead wherever she wants to take them.