i was asked a few weeks ago if i wanted to go see "boyz II men" perform at the scera shell in orem and declined; though a mission companion in japan was a big fan of theirs and helped me appreciate their talent, i was never really a fan and didn't feel like handing over $15 for an evening. i hadn't even really heard from them since high school; evidently they were still around, but had moved from playing sold out arenas to outdoor parks in suburban utah.
but when i was offered a free ticket this afternoon, i figured what the heck.
the evening started off with what was almost a minor "tally hall" moment. as an opening act, we were treated to the finalists of another variant of "utah idol star search" or whatever it was called this time. a couple of moderately talented late teenage guys were followed by a girl who looked no more than 14 and gave a strong performance of a country song with great attitude. and i forget the others that came after, until a little girl who looked like she was twelve walked out to sing "i will always love you." at her first note, we were all amazed. she was actually 11, but sang like she was 25. she was incredible, holding everyone in the grassy arena in awe from start to finish, politely leaving to a standing ovation. in fact, i felt bad for the 30-looking guy who came last; after an 11-year old girl like that, only david archuletta could have topped it for that crowd.
as the judges tallied their votes, i started gathering a posse to help me riot if little kalli jackson didn't win. not only did i not need to riot, but it turned out her family was sitting a few people down from us. when she returned to her mom as winner of the competition, i congratulated her and asked for a personalize autograph. and a high five.
among the six of us, we could only name about three of their songs anyway; we figured they'd start with "motownphilly" and end with "end of the road," the staple slow song of any dance in the nineties. the little girl was so good that, like the guster concert nigh unto a year ago, i would have preferred to hear more from the opening instead of boyz II men.
at least, that was my presupposition. the main event began with a video montage reminding us that these guys used to be big, until the venues got small.
but the beats of "motownphilly" sounded forth, and boyz II men burst on the stage with all the funk, fire, and power of the most successful male r&b group of all time.
the whole place went crazy, and those three on stage (yeah, there's only three now) were in complete control. in fact, i hardly danced--i was in mild shock. appearing in sleek, classy suits, they were as good as i ever would have imagined them at their worldwide peak; their harmonies were as smooth, solid, and intermingled as ever, they danced with equal joy and skill. the crowd loved it.
yet what was cooler still was how much they seemed to enjoy it. this was not a "we-haven't-had-a-#1-in-a-while-and-need-to-tour" tour. or maybe it was, which is what made this so great, because they did not seem to expect this much love and appreciation. they burst onto the stage and gave their all, and, immediately, utah valley gave their all right back: a symbiotic love that circulated all night.
it turned out we knew more songs that we remembered, and they also sang some good ol' motown songs, complete with wonderful choreography. amidst all the trends of hip hop, the boys have scrupulously maintained their clean-cut gentleman personas, which is very cool (and certainly helps with their long-lasting appeal around here). except for "motownphilly", all of their songs are slow and soulful ballads, which is great for dances and the like, but i was wishing i had been less "startled" and more "dancing" at the thumping start of the concert. they closed with "end of the road", to which everyone sang along and swayed.
evidently, the crowd's enthusiasm left them also realizing that you can't end a concert like that. (who knows-- in reality, they probably had the encore planned out. still, i like to think they were inspired; it's the romantic in me) they came back out and declared that you can't end on a low note like that; that you need to end on a high note. as such, we were treated to the opening song once again, with even more fervor, no doubt due to their delight at orem's perpetual love of boyz II men. whatever it was, the thousands in the park danced with pure joy. never in my entire life did i think i would have that much fun dancing to "motownphilly."
for what it's worth: boyz II men's "end of the road" spent 13 weeks at number one on the charts, beating elvis's 1956 "hound dog/ don't be cruel." their record was later beat that year by whitney houston's "i will always love you."