Boyz II Men, Stevie B and Break EFX at the Ogden Theater
Photo: Chad Fahnestock
Boyz II Men took to a stage empty of instruments or musicians. Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris, the three remaining members of the band (Michael McCory left in 2003) sang along to a pre-recorded rhythm track for the performance, a touch that seemed at first to ape karaoke a bit too much. As the trio progressed in their set, however, the absence of a band seemed appropriate - the vocal group played off the sheer power of their voices. Whatever hesitations I had in terms of the band's style, the band's vocal strength and range made an impression. I soon was dancing along with the rest of the crowd.
The early part of the set hit a number of band's expected hits. They opened with an abbreviated version of "Motown Philly," progressed quickly to "On Bended Knee" and performed "4 Seasons of Loneliness" seated on stools. The crowd obviously hadn't attended for the band's deep tracks. The nostalgia was almost palpable as couples danced as they probably had at a prom 10 years ago and 30-year old men broke out dusty hip-hop moves.
For all the power of '90s nostalgia, it was the group's set of old Motown covers that fully melted my snootiness. The band's renditions of Smoky Robinson's "Tears of a Clown," the Temptations' "Just My Imagination," Barrett Strong's "Money," the Four Tops' "Same Old Song" and "Reach Out I'll Be There" included choreography and vocal touches straight from the original performances.
The five Motown classics preceded more Boyz II Men radio hits, which were complemented by well-honed theatrics. During "I'll Make Love to You," the band handed out roses to audience members, and the performance of "A Song for Mama" saw Shawn Stockman encouraging everyone to get out their cell phones and call their mothers. Similarly, the first set's finale, "End of the Road," spurred the band to strip off their suit coats and strut about in their button-up shirts.
As seemingly hackneyed as such antics may sound, they worked. Males and females alike clambered to receive the roses and shake the band members' hands. The band's sole encore song, a fuller rendition of "Motown Philly" stirred up the masses even more.
As we shuffled through the Ogden to reach the exit and find the car in the newly fallen snow, my friend announced her intention to start a new aural diet of old-school, '90s R&B. The show had inspired her, she declared, to rediscover her pop roots.
After hearing the band's well-executed harmonies, seeing their well-crafted stage antics and revisiting their durable pop tunes, the declaration didn't seem at all silly. Sure, there was plenty to mock at the show, but there was plenty to enjoy as well.
-- A.H. Goldstein
Personal bias: As a soul and Motown addict, Boyz II Men's suites of classic covers helped me connect the band's '90s commercial material to their storied Motown roots.
Random detail: The inclusion of Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" in Break EFX's opening act seemed appropriate - Michael Bivins helped Boyz II Men secure their first record deal.
By the way: Stevie B claims he can do 1,000 crunches. I sense a challenge.
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