It has been a good summer at Canalside for anyone with a fondness for the New Jack Swing branch of R&B.
Earlier in the concert season, Blackstreet, a group that helped pioneer this form of music, played to a full house on the inner harbor. And on Saturday, another New Jack Swing progenitor, in the form of Bell Biv DeVoe, performed for the faithful.
Both shows brought out large and incredibly responsive crowds, and served the urban music audience so often overlooked in our area’s various free outdoor summer concert schedules.
Despite the steady rain showers that turned the crowd into a sea of umbrellas for most of the night, the trio of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe presided over a massive audience of the “Bel Biv Devoted.”
The trio didn’t take the stage until 10 p.m. but the crowd waited and danced in the rain while local DJ C-Perfect and his crew provided a steady stream of R&B, hip-hop and pop hits. The late starting time couldn’t keep BBD from being welcomed with open arms.
New Jack Swing was a late ’80s and early ’90s form of fusion, in this case, the marriage of hip-hop, funk, soul and R&B with the smooth edges of radio-friendly pop. Bell, Bivins and DeVoe are in their mid-40s now, but their youthful blend of boy-band choreography, honey-toned vocal harmonies and occasional rap inflections seemed to have lost none of its appeal for those in attendance. The age range of the audience ran from grandparents to their grandchildren. This was a combination of crazy night at the club and wholesome family affair for many.
After an introductory set from their own DJ, Shakim, BBD hit the stage with attitude, apparently anxious to give the waterlogged crowd – the majority of whom had been waiting for the band to arrive for four hours or so – a little something beyond the average show as a “Thanks for waiting in the rain for us!” gesture.
The show did have a prepackaged vibe – there were no musicians on the stage, with the three singers backed by DJ Shakim and a bevy of backing tracks and samples. No one seemed to mind, though. Bell, Bivins and DeVoe are a charming lot, and their mix of choreographed moves and freestyle dancing were a blast to witness.
Of course, the group performed its biggest hits – the raunchy hip-hop inflected “Do Me,” the R&B/pop mash-up “Poison” (of all the group’s songs, this one sounds the most like a holdover from Bell, Bivins and DeVoe’s former outfit, New Edition), a spot-on, peppy take on Babyface’s “Something In Your Eyes,” the ballad “When Will I See You Smile Again?” and the party anthem “She’s Dope.”
The performance was a strong one, but it was a little on the short side, considering how long the audience had been waiting for BBD to take the stage. That said, this – like the Buffalo Place Rocks Canalside show featuring the Wailers and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad that took place on Friday evening – was a free show.
All told, this was a fantastic weekend of music at Canalside.