Boyz II Men
From Motownphilly To Vegas
If the truth be told, Wanya Morris (age 41), Nathan Morris (No relation to Wanya, age 43) and Shawn Stockman (age 41), who make up the popular R&B trio “Boyz II Men,” went from being boys to becoming men a long time ago. Their group name is now a brand, and no longer what they were developing into over 20 years ago. After a career that has garnered four Grammys, over 60 million albums sold and two Billboard Hot 100 #1 singles with, “End Of The Road” (13 weeks) and “I’ll Make Love To You” (14 weeks), Boyz II Men find themselves headlining at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, appearing at the Terry Fator Theater.
I caught the show on a recent trip to sin city, and there’s good news and bad news. Here’s the good news first. The “Boyz” still have great chops. Nathan, Wanya and Shawn’s voices are as crisp and mellifluous as they ever were, and sing their 20 year old songs seemingly without much effort.
Backed by a four-piece rhythm section, three horns and one male background singer, the group sang their way through their history and others’. With only one legitimate up-tempo hit, “Motownphilly” (which they saved for the last song), the trio had to supplement their ballad-filled catalogue with other fast songs, like the Jackson’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and a medley of Motown hits from Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Temptations and The Four Tops, which was cleverly disguised as a tribute to their original record label Motown Records. They reminded their audience that acapella singing was one of their fortes, when they invited background singer Marc Nelson down from hiding in the shadows to do a street-corner harmony section which featured such gems as “Hard To Say Goodbye,” “In The Still Of The Night” and The Beatles, “Yesterday.”
Getting the most out of their two biggest hits, the singers went into the aisles to give out hugs to the many women fans (and one guy) that lined up during “End Of The Road” and passed out roses for “I’ll Make Love To You.” Now for the bad news: I was slightly perplexed as to why there was no acknowledgement of former original member Michael McCray (who retired from the group because of an ongoing battle with scoliosis) during the 90 minutes that the group was on stage. There were monologues from each of the three singers at various times during the set, but the only mention of another member was when Nathan referred to their “fourth guy.”
My other complaint is that most groups today seem to be fans of supplementing what you hear live, combined with digital enhancement, such as additional bass and/or keyboard parts and reinforced background harmonies. The “Boyz’s” show was guilty of this practice. There were bass parts being heard during “Motownphilly” that the bass player or keyboard player could not be seen playing. In addition, the harmonies were so lush and perfect that no group, who does any amount of choreography, could accomplish such a feat.
There were no bad notes amid a perfect blend which, to the trained ear, is a dead giveaway for what I consider “cheating.” In my opinion, the live experience should be entirely “live,” unless you’re willing to announce to your fans that what they’re hearing through these state-of-the-art sound systems is being produced by something more than the group of singers and musicians that are performing on stage in front of them. At least that way, you give the ticket-buying public an option whether to lay down their hard-earned money, leave home and visit a nearby venue to watch their favorite acts or stay at home and listen to the mistake-free CD on their own stereo system. For my money, I’ll take a few bad notes.