VALENTINE’S WEEKEND GETS AN OLD-SCHOOL TWIST FROM JODECI, SWV & JAGGED EDGE
“You’re from Brooklyn, right?” a man asked as he took a woman’s hand in the aisle of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center late Friday night (Feb. 12), leading her in a gentle two-step after she confirmed his suspicions with a smile. The music was strictly 20th century, the arena a welcome respite from the record-breaking cold, and the Ladies Night R&B Super Jam was in full swing. After being serenaded by just about every seminal 90’s R&B group (and a few of the decades’ rappers as well), the crowd — from the security guards to the highest rows of the nosebleeds — was letting loose.
The premise of the event was straightforward, and for those who tune in for slow jams and dedications, instantly appealing : a nostalgic V-Day tribute to the music of the now grown n’ sexy. Hardly an exercise in subtlety, the Super Jam featured a giant, illuminated red heart hanging over the stage and festively-colored background visuals taken straight out of the most over-the-top e-card. It was Valentine’s weekend, and the presumed audience was people who were going to be spending the whole night together, a fact not taken for granted by the evening’s eternally winking emcees. “All the brothers who make their ladies take them to Red Lobster, say ‘Ahhh’,” one demanded, alluding to Beyonce’s instantly-iconic “When he f— me good/I take his ass to Red Lobster” line off “Formation.”
One after another, R&B groups ran off baby-making classics: Blackstreet, clad in matching black suits, red pocket squares, and sunglasses, busted out flawless choreography for hits like “Before I Let You Go” and “Don’t Leave Me” (“No Diggity,” of course, added a healthy dose of levity). SWV ran through the classics, never betraying for a moment that 20 years had passed since their last top-10 single. Jagged Edge, outliers as the only Atlantans, showed off their signature pleads on matrimony anthem “Let’s Get Married.” The generally smooth-running show faltered a bit when it reached main attraction Jodeci — the first act of the night to use a live band, and the first to struggle with sound issues. The R&B icons take their status as the “Bad Boys of R&B” seriously — unfortunately, two decades in, the lustier accents of their performance have become less charming (a moment when K-Ci had his hand down his pants stands out). For the night, though, Barclays was the two-step capital of the world.
The lineup also charmed the Brooklyn crowd with its New York bent — Bad Boy Records in particular was represented by Total, Black Rob, The LOX and Faith Evans, and Rah Digga and Raekwon both hopped onstage for a verse or two. It’s hard to imagine another audience in 2016, for example, that would know every single word to Sheek Louch‘s 2003 anthem “Mighty D-Block (2 Guns Up).” In Barclays Friday night though, the crowd sang along, completely unabashed, for The LOX’s 20 minute set, which even included a tribute to the uniquely New York institution of the Bartendaz(complete with on-stage acrobatics). It was Jadakiss who shut down the place, though, with an a capella break on his own hit, “We Gonna Make It.”
Overall, the mini-festival charmed with its unpretentious embrace of the retro — the constant refrain onstage was, “Let’s take it back to 199_,” and the only contemporary artist who made the playlist was the aforementioned Queen Bey. No one was there because it was cool, and as a result, it (unlike so many shows who owe their audiences to hype) actually was. The arena was filled (it appeared to be sold-out) with people who just wanted to hear the same songs they dance to at every single function, in the club and out. As the evening’s emcee put it, “I like rap, but I love R&B.”