By MIKE CHAIKEN
When you have a concert with more than just three acts, especially a concert that’s a one-and-done for a particular combination of musical forces, you’re bound to get a mixed bag of results.
And this was definitely the case with the Best of the 90’s Concert at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sept. 18.
The audience was clearly jazzed for the show, which featured Boys II Men as the headliners and also included other favorite 1990s acts as Wilson Philips, En Vogue, and Coolio.
But not everyone was en pointe for this particular night.
First of all, let us begin by noting that each of the acts on Sept. 15 struggled with sound issues on stage. Since this was not a regular tour but a one-night event, we’re sure the sound crew was hired for this gig only. On a regular road tour, the sound crew has the time to get the nuances of each act right to avoid issues. But several acts commented on—and several acts suffered from—less than stellar sound.
But, some acts clearly shined at the Mohegan Sun despite the obstacles.
One of my favorite performances of the evening was from En Vogue. They were clearly on top of the game at the show, offering up fabulous renditions of their hits such as “Free Your Mind,” “My Love (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” and “Whatta Man.” Their voices and harmonies were as strong as they were in their younger days. And they reminded me why they were in many ways, The Supremes of the 1990s. Besides sounding great, they also looked great.
Freedom Williams also did a great job at the show. First of all, he showed what a pro he is when he slipped on stage– in what looked like a painful tumble– got back up and continued to stalk the stage as he rapped to the best of C+C Music Factory. And although the crowd was clearly excited when he performed his hit, “Gonna Make You Sweat,” he wasn’t afraid to try some freestyle rapping that showed his skills have extended beyond his 1990s hit-making days.
Shock G of Digital Underground probably offered up the most interesting set of the evening… albeit one that left some audience members who were just looking for “the hits” a bit puzzled. Rather than just trotting out solely Digital Underground’s best known songs—he did perform “The Humpty Dance—Shock G played some lesser known music. And truth be told, Shock G showed he is still a vibrant artist as his material drew from such disparate sources as Parliament-Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, and the more trippy side of rap music. Shock G clearly wanted to take the audience on a musical journey. Unfortunately, many audience members used the set to journey to the bathroom or the beer line.
Wilson Philips was one of the acts who were affected by poor sound on stage. It was clear at times that they couldn’t hear their backing tracks through the monitors as high notes went astray. But they never let the technical issues distract them. They offered up a polished set that demonstrated their sense of harmony. They offered one musical treat as they performed Chynna Philips’ parents’ (John and Michele Philips) 1960s classic “California Dreamin’” And they thrilled the audience with their big hit, “Hold On.”
Boys II Men were the headliners. And unlike the other acts, the vocal harmony group arrived with a full band.
However, Boys II Men was probably the one group most sabotaged by sound issues. During one moment on stage, feedback from guitars and microphones halted the flow as the group tried to rectify the matter. Later, you could see members – who weren’t singing—arguing off to the stage, clearly upset at the situation. They never really got back on track.
Although they performed their hits like “End of the Road,” “On Bended Knee,” and “I’ll Make Love to You,” the band also undercut its strength—its harmonies. Many of the harmonies were “sweetened” – either through electronic trickery or backing tracks. And that distracted from their real voices. It was unclear how the trio truly sounded because the harmonies were buried in the mix.
Boys II Men may be great performers—they have a residency in Las Vegas—but on this night they fell short of expectations.
Coolio opened the evening. Like Freedom Williams, he demonstrated that he still is willing to take chances by freestyle rapping. And his sax player allowed Coolio to show the crowd that he is not interested in just offering up rote performance of his hits—such as “Fantastic Voyage” and “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Again however, sound issues probably prevented Coolio from being as sharp as he could be. There were times where he clearly seemed distracted by not being able to hear his backing tracks through the monitors.
Special kudos to Ed Lover, who served as emcce and between set DJ for the proceedings. Ed did a great job keeping up the energy level by playing the best of the 1990s (and 1980s) for the audience as they waited for the next act. Ed did what a great DJ does, he kept the party going.
Overall, I’ll give The Best of 90’s concert at Mohegan Sun Arena 2 1/2 stars out of 4.
By MIKE CHAIKEN