Friday, February 4th, saw Valentine's Day arriving a little early at Alexandria, Virginia's legendary music hall, The Birchmere when Will Downing played the first of his two shows. The balladeer, affectionately known as Chocolate by his adoring female fans, graced the stage in a sleek black suit and began his show with the jazz-flavored "Stand Up" from his 2021 album Sophisticated Soul.
“Stand Up” is a good bop but a look deeper into the lyrics, Downing crafts an uplifting song about blackness. Not missing a beat in his performance, Downing then paid homage to Chocolate City’s own Marvin Gaye with his take on the singer's "You Sure Love to Ball." Downing then tapped into the archives of his twenty album discography to the delight of his fans. First was a smooth performance of "Don't Talk to Me Like That" from 2002's Sensual Journey. Then, Downing elegantly transitioned into "After Tonight" from the same-titled 2007, followed by a cover of The Stylistics "Stop, Look, Listen (to Your Heart)." Right before introducing his band and background singers, Will performed one of his signature songs, "A Million Ways."
After giving the band and background singers a chance to show out during a lively medley, Downing performed the proposal anthem "Say Yes," another selection from Sophisticated Soul.
The rest of the night found Downing tapping into crowd favorites from his expansive catalog with "Sorry I," "Come With Me," and of course the Rachelle Ferrell duet "Nothing Has Ever Felt" found its way into the setlist. Downing then capped off the night with "Warmth of You."
Outside of his hits, I primarily know Mr. Downing for his elegant covers of classic songs. However, after seeing Downing live for the first time, I understand why he has such a strong following. The next time he's in town, I highly recommend checking him out.
Final Grade: A