She's been forthcoming in the media about this, and was the same on this night, explaining how a previous bad relationship left a negative impact on her health and self-esteem; her return to music was an indication that she had grown emotionally as a person and artist. So after stepping back from the spotlight for a few years, her return this year — with what is perhaps an early contender for R&B album of the year with the excellent Reality Show — was long overdue. The enthusiastic crowd on this night showed her as much right from when she shyly emerged on the stage in front of her six-piece band.
To say the Philly-raised singer has a great voice would be an egregious understatement; her effortlessly raspy "sounds just like the damn record" vocals weaved its way through cuts from the new album and numbers from the acclaimed 2008 Fearless LP. Starting things off the with a quick one-two combo — uptempo Meek Mill-featuring banger "Dumb," off the new album, and the midtempo Latin-infused hip-hop groove "Bust Your Windows" from Fearless ("I want to see y'all bounce," she told the crowd) — Sullivan set the mood for a great night of contemporary soul music.
Slowing things down with her Grammy-nominated slow jam "Lions, Tigers & Bears" and jumping into a quick version of "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)" that segued into a rousing sing-along of the Roberta Flack/Lauryn Hill jam "Killing Me Softly," Sullivan was quickly able to establish how much her unique skills as a singer-songwriter — notably her vocal command, her extensive range and the ability to blend traditional, fully realized genre sounds with a hip-hop flair — has been sorely missed. Sit-down, acoustic versions of "Stupid Girl" and recent hit single "Forever Don't Last," along with a stripped down rendition of "Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)," was next on the agenda.
Despite being away, her ability to connect with the crowd was polished, so much so that even a slight technical issue with the sound cutting out — the sound was never truly great on this night to begin with — didn't really threaten to derail the show. Winding things down with the Missy Elliot-produced, dancehall-inspired jam "Need U Bad" only reinforced how good Sullivan is and can be in the future.
"I want to be honest," Sullivan told the crowd. "I was so nervous about coming back. I didn't know if you guys were still going to be here to support me."
She was quickly drowned out with cheers; it clearly wasn't an issue in Toronto.