An off-shoot of the big nostalgia-fest that was “RNB (R&B) Fridays Live” had three of the tour’s standouts performing as a triple-threat at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. D.C singer Mya, Atlanta bad boys 112, and New Jack Swingers BLACKstreet broke away from the massive throwback tour (which also featured TLC and Nelly) as a sideshow of sorts, giving fans a chance to focus in on these talents in a venue much more intimate and arguably more suited to R&B than the imposing Qudos Bank Arena.
Mya’s showmanship has certainly not aged, neither have those dulcet notes that stole the show on “Lady Marmalade”, or the attitude that made “It’s All About Me” and “Case of the Ex” such chart-dominating singles. The R&B songstress was here last with Sean Paul in 2014, playing as part of a double-headline tour, and though she was basically the opener in a triple-threat here, Mya was a tough act to follow. She also proved to be the most versatile on the night; while BLACKstreet and 112 played it safe with structure, the Grammy winner would often play around with delivery on her lesser-known songs.
Disappointingly, this playfulness didn’t extend to her closing run, which was basically all her biggest hits thrown at us in a medley, “Lady Marmalade” being the barely noticeable cherry on top of what was otherwise a fine showing of ageless talent by an artist who earlier this year proved that she’s more than just a handful of hits, with the passionate Smoove Jones.
BLACKstreet were a bit trickier. The recently reformed quartet continued what was first started by Guy back in the Teddy Riley days, shooting through the early 90’s R&B scene with New Jack Swing with cuts like “No Diggity”, a now 20 year old track that would go on to become one of the reference points for the R&B genre as a whole. Outside of the nostalgia for casual fans, they also gave the scene the likes of “Don’t Leave Me”, “Before I Let You Go”, “Booti Call”, and “Boyfriend/Girlfriend” (and *lowers breath* “Wizzy Wow”, a low point for both Mystikal and the group), cementing their value and ensuring that whenever they actually did decide to make a comeback, their fans would welcome them back with open arms.
Well they are making their comeback, just not yet. Now that this tour is wrapped up and issues have been resolved, BLACKstreet are looking to jump back into the studio and see if they can recapture what made them such an endearing name in the first place. My advice: avoid the slow jams. Though their voices have understandably aged, the boys can still make New Jack sound so sweet, absolutely dominating when it came to the livelier hits like opener “Don’t Leave Me” – preceded with snippets of Hov’s “City is Mine” and Foxy’s “Get Me Home” – and “U Blow My Mind”, but tripping a bit when it came to “Fix” (“Good Lovin'” would have been a better choice, more songs for Another Level would have been great seeing as 2016 is the album’s 20th) and “Joy”.
Of course, the rambunctious “No Diggity” closed the whole thing out, but I do wonder if completely ignoring 1999’s club-ready Finally was a wise choice; they could have brought Mya back out for “Take Me There” or funked it up with the aforementioned “Boyfriend/Girlfriend”. They played it safe, but seeing as how the group are only just now starting to find their feet again, that may have been the only way it could have gone down.
Mike, Daron and Slim of 112 shuffled out on stage for the final act. Q Parker was nowhere to be found, but one benefit was that it allowed Mike a bit more room to shine. I’ve been listening to 112 since I was 9 years old and have always felt Mike was overshadowed by the three bigger voices in the group; it’s now clear that he can most definitely hold his own outside of those silky smooth harmonies, picking up for Q’s absence as 112 went through their biggest hits, and a few smaller ones.
Unfortunately those smaller hits were the same handful of cuts that 112 choose whenever they tour Australia. Similar to my small complaint with BLACKstreet’s set, it would have been nice to hear more from the group’s brilliant 1996 debut seeing as it’s now 20 years old. Instead, we got an identical set list that has remained largely unchanged since the group stopped putting out albums back in 2005, and while hearing these R&B gems never gets old, changes were restricted to small little nuances like playing a snippet of Lil’ Kim on the “Quiet Storm” remix before “It’s Over Now” or Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” as a way to tie off “Dance With Me”.
Set highlight “Player” proved how powerful Daron Jones’ voice still is, while “Cupid” was nothing more than a chance to singalong. “It’s Over Now” was surprisingly performed in full without that dreaded medley style, while “I’ll Be Missing You” was basically karaoke for both the group and the fans. The set was inconsistent in quality, but I have a feeling pointing that out would be missing the point; the ‘just play the ones they know’ approach was the plan all along, and it’s a bit sad these artists aren’t confident enough in their non-singles (which in 112’s case are mostly excellent) when performing outside of the U.S.
We are getting a constant influx of these 90’s/early-mid 2000’s R&B acts now, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that; nostalgia sells tickets, but is the customer always right? The problem is that through performing these decade old tracks we can hear that these artists still have the talent necessary to keep up with the modern strains of R&B, but they aren’t using that talent to create new works (outside of Mya), and for someone who truly appreciates these artists and wants to see more from them, that’s a bit disappointing.
Image by Gwendolyn Lee for the AU review. Full photo gallery found HERE.