Thursday, 2 February 2012

Live Music Review - Boyz II Men - Brighton Concorde 2 27/01/12

When I told people I was off to see Boyz II Men friends of mine openly laughed at me. Despite being the most successful R&B group of all time with 20 years in the business and shifting over 60 million albums they are about as fashionable as a pair of flares.

This goes some way to explaining that instead of playing the 02 they are playing at the Concorde to a crowd of 600. But music is music right? I've never been a slavish follower of fashion and could not give a monkeys about musical "trends" so was prepared to give them a fair hearing.

What is instantly noticeable as they roll a preliminary video montage of their achievements over their 20 year career is a complete lack of instruments on stage. There is no long-haired roadie with his arse hanging out of his jeans checking the sound. No backing band, no drums, no guitars, no keyboards, nothing. Boyz II Men will be singing over a backing track. I'm sorry but this is inexcusable. It’s like going to see Shakespeare with the dialogue performed by robot actors.

Right, so if the show is going to be all about the vocals then they had better be pretty damn special. There can be no argument that Boyz II Men deliver on this front. Shawn Stockman and founder Nathan Morris are as smooth as a cashmere codpiece and in Wanya Morris they have a vocalist that on occasion is as good as Stevie Wonder. There can be no greater compliment in the world than that. He can take average material and make it soar.

Sadly that is where the similarity with Stevie ends as Boyz II Men lack Mr Wonder's musicality, innovation and variety and have seemingly been content to plough the same schmaltzy furrow for the last two decades.

The ballads come thick and fast starting with On Bended Knee from the II album where the guys do a sort of vocal relay passing vocal duties from one to another throughout the song, Wanya’s powerful voice milking every last syllable.

Shawn does the pre song banter and thanks Brighton for "showing a lot of love" and sticking with their brand of baby making music but to me it sounds like artifice.

As befits a group who are not playing instruments they need to do something else with their hands so the crowd are treated to some odd choreographed dance moves. Whilst a few synchronized hip thrusts start off as amusing eventually they just end up looking a bit silly. Middle aged men should not try and bust a move. Unless their name is Prince.

Four Seasons Of Loneliness is another mid tempo ballad by numbers with Hallmark lyrics and midnight lover shtick. It is instantly forgettable.

New song More Than You Ever Know from new album Twenty is a hard rocking political number about the financial crisis featuring a Slash style guitar lick and a rap by Common. Only joking. It's another Babyface type ballad about loving your woman which is only saved from a saccharine hell by Wanya's fantastic vocals.

Next we hear Doin' Just Fine from the 1997's Evolution album and suddenly I'm 15 years old and it's 01:55 at my local sticky floored nightclub and everyone is desperately scanning the dance floor for a lady to grind up a against. As I am with a male friend I pass. Is this 2012 or 1988? I'm confused.

Pass You By has some nice eastern cadences and Water Runs Dry has some good harmonies but the lack of tempo is starting to send me to sleep.

I come to as I’m nearly hit by a flying rose that the guys are throwing out to the audience during I'll Make Love To You and whilst a classic song I have to stifle a laugh. It feels like a comedy sketch featuring Theophilus P Wildebeest. Do women still go for this schmaltz? Perhaps that is why I'm single.

A Song For Mama and there are more "wave your hands in the air" requests as the twee sentiment washes over us. Nathan starts to to talk to the crowd about about “real music” the sort that influenced the band and I’m ready for one of their great covers from their Motown themed Hitsville. No such luck. Instead they give us one of their own songs and perhaps the pinnacle of their career, End of The Road which galvanises the audience into a mass singalong.

Songs about God should always be approached with caution but new song One Up For Love shows promise and a rare break in style proving they can deliver more than just ballads. Its driving rhythm with elements of gospel and Wanya's sky scraping vocals are a revelation after what has come before. It shows how great Boyz II Men could be if they jus ditched a bit of the cheese.

They follow this up with the classic new jack swing ofMotown Philly and the crowd finally get a chance to shake a leg. Even Wanya gets to do the running man. But they inexplicably don't do my favourite acapella bit live and leave that to the crowd.

It really is a shame that over the years their reliance on Babyface/Pendegrass influenced balladry and lack of musical invention overshadows their obvious vocal talents. If only they would inject a bit more rhythm and variety into their set they would be back to playing bigger venues than this.

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