Scott is even better off the record

Special to The Times

Jill Scott pauses for a moment, takes a big swig from an imaginary drink and wipes her lip with emphasis. “It’s just a metaphor for something I want more,” she confides to the packed crowd Tuesday at the House of Blues.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that she’s talking about sex. And she mentions it repeatedly throughout her highly erotic performance. Her ad libs and interludes are so risque, they can’t be quoted in a family newspaper.

Someone in the crowd whispers that the sexual energy is the emotional byproduct of her recent divorce from Lyzel Williams, who was the subject of some of her past love songs. And the set list does reflect an aching heart: “Hate On Me,” “Celibacy Blues,” and “Crown Royal,” a trio plucked from her new album “The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3.”


Like any good poet, Scott captures the deeper meaning in everyday moments in her songwriting. She sees the pathos of kitchen sinks and collard greens. On “Epiphany,” another new one, she chants about heaving, glistening body parts and squirting massage oil to a syncopated conga drum, only to end with, “But why do I feel so empty?”

Ironically, she’s probably one of the least empty and most substantive vocalists in R&B.; Her voice is a magnificent instrument of virtuosity. She transitions from different sonic textures with agility: jazz, gospel, blues, even opera. In one moment she mewls like a vulnerable kitten. Then, the emotion wells up inside of her swaying body, erupts from her mouth and soars to the rafters in a satisfying musical catharsis, a powerful antidote to the antiseptic, digitized nano-noise we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.

Her massive band -- with its brass section, drums, guitar, bass, synthesizer and trio of backup singers -- follows her every lead with a sound that is lush and well-oiled. The live show is better than the album in the way the book is usually better than the movie.

The mature, 30-plus crowd eats it up with gusto. Friends and lovers sway and embrace. Some couples kiss to the slower, more romantic songs. Large swaths of the audience sing along. “Hold on, how is it the album has been out only a couple weeks, and you already know the words? Are you showing off?” teases Scott.

By 10:30 p.m., the show has erupted into a full-throttle dance party (concertgoers don’t yet know that they will have to wait more than two hours for their cars in the House of Blues valet). Everyone moves to her 2004 hit single “Golden.” She receives a bouquet of flowers and does a little beauty pageant wave. But wait, the show isn’t over.

A gentle piano solo emerges from the darkness and Scott breaks into an emotional rendition of “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)” -- the song about her ex-husband. She sings, “You tease me/you please me/you school me,” with such searing intensity, it almost seems like every glass in the venue will break. Speaking of which, did anyone ever get her that drink?