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Craig David picks up where he left off at the Chicago Theater

It’s been more than 20 years since Craig David last performed in Chicago and the pop music landscape has changed. Some (including this reviewer) would say the worst. Artists like David, who pioneered underground sounds into the mainstream and found international success, are rarer today, creating a more homogeneous music community when access and ease of technology should make artists and their sounds are more different than ever.

That was certainly evident during David’s headlining show last night at the Chicago Theatre. Twenty years later, David can still command a room, this time full of enthusiastic older millennials. Nostalgic, fun, happy and unique, his music also has something timeless about it. At least in America, no one made music like David back then. And no one is making music like him right now.

Hailing from the UK, David first burst onto the scene in the late ’90s with a distinctive pop style that focused on R&B as well as the then-emerging garage sound of British dance floors. Surprisingly, he worked, connecting with a generation devouring new music. Here in the United States, David is perhaps best known for his singles “Fill Me In” and “7 Days,” the latter of which peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000.

During Monday night’s show, David kicked off the jam-packed 90-minute set with “What’s Your Flava?” from their second studio album “Slicker Than Your Average” (2002). Dressed all in white with a light salmon-colored jacket, David created a lively and fast-paced show. The songs slid one after another, as if listening to a mixed DJ set. David and his band members rarely stood still, instead opting to move down and around the stage while playfully interacting with each other, as well as showing love to the fans in the front rows. David was not afraid to give the right shine to the backing vocalists and instrumentalists who added an extra touch of gravitas and brought the show to life.

And the audience responded enthusiastically, jumping up and down, whipping out their cell phones to record, and singing along to all the older hits (“Re-Rewind” and “Fill Me In”), as well as some of the newer ones. some (like “Got it Good,” a collaboration with Canadian producer Kaytranada, and “Abracadabra,” a song featuring David that was released this year). During “Rise & Fall,” a 2003 collaboration with Sting, an audience member shouted “I love you, Craig. I never stop loving you.”

The love was mutual. David frequently shouted out the city, either in name or through praise during the low moments between songs.

“I was very excited to come here because I know how important a music city is. How important it is here,” David said at one point, reflecting on the 23 years that had passed since his last show here.

House music, born in Chicago, has had an impact on artists and genres around the world. Those connections were made, both during a cover of Robin S.’s iconic song “Show Me Love,” sung primarily by one of David’s background singers, and throughout a medley of the first songs David performed. These included songs like “Can’t Be Messing ‘Round”, “Follow Me” and the underrated “Rendezvous”.

“I feel like I stepped into a time machine for a minute,” David joked.

Through it all, David exuded a cheerful and serious demeanor. And his voice sounded as clear and smooth as it had decades ago. At times it seemed like we were watching a music video, with David’s facial expressions and gestures feeling simply cool, smooth and sassy. I especially noticed this during songs like “Ain’t Giving Up” and the quieter “Walking Away.” That speaks to the enduring appeal of an artist like David, who has never been afraid to be himself.

“The energy inside me. “I am so grateful for each of you,” David proclaimed. The long-time fans in the room clearly felt the same way.

Britt Julious is an independent critic.