Last night, radio station Old School. 94.5 pulled off an impressive first outing as their rebranded self. The station turned the American Airlines Center into a party, a church and even a Soul Train line with a strong roster of classic R&B and soul artists from The O’Jays to Chaka Khan. The show had its ups and downs, but there was no doubt, they brought the funk.
For the show to start almost an hour late was not cool. They were still sound checking and 6 p.m. when it was supposed to start. Most concerts rarely start on time, but this kind of delay was ridiculous and mind you, this was a six-hour event. All was forgotten when Confunkshun took the stage and brought the house down quick. Soulful vocals, rich horns and a few choreographed steps helped the band show music doesn’t need a lot of accessorizing to be awesome. If there was anything to be said for that long-ass sound check, it was the wonderfully lush, layered sounds of the band. The Mary Jane Girls hopped onstage to perform “In My House” adding to the bustling energy. The BarKays threw in some gimmicky quick pyros and a live anaconda and Slave held their own with a spirited performance, but it was the Ohio Players who killed inthe first half. That intro bass line from “Skin Tight” sent a nuclear reaction through the arena and “Love Rollercoaster” was a jam best enjoyed live and at loud volumes. The audience was whipped into a frenzy all before the first break.
The Men of Soul highlighted the second half. After high energy funk jams, Howard Hewitt, Peabo Bryson and Jeffrey Osborne chilled a bit with smooth grooves. Hewitt, formerly of Shalamar, faltered in his opening. His game never worked for me and for a man without a giant hit to his name, his reliance on vocal tricks and silly banter missed. This was a good time for the four non-stop standing ladies in front of me to sit down. Bryson sounded stronger than ever with long vocal runs and a steadfast performance. Opening with “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again,” he sang like his last day on earth was last night and gave everything up for his gig. Jeffrey Osborne, though, ruled the second act with an explosive performance of LTD hits and a crowd-swooning “On the Wings of Love.” Where the previous guys brought the show to a simmer, Osborne amped it back up. The man, who turns 64 in March, even stripped down to a see through tee and had some fine abs and guns to show off. Who knew? The three singers banded together for Osborne’s “You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)” and introduced Tom Joyner before the second break.
Most artists through the night acknowledged Whitney Houston but they announced the Whitney Tribute for the third break. As it turned out, it was a glorified slide show of pics and tidbits plugging Tom Joyner’s show. But this opened act three and after Joyner’s announcements, Chaka Khan entered the stage and the audience, for the moment, returned to party mode. But she ended up all over the place. A medley of Rufus tracks went over well, but “My Funny Valentine” was a thud and then she dug into even keeled jams and killed all the energy. As co-headliner, Khan was more a party pooper with her deep cut tracks and to the point of unbearable. At five to midnight, I had to leave out of pure suffering. “I’m Every Woman” be damned. I’ll listen to it on my iPhone.
Thus, I missed the O’Jays and the Soul Train line, but this was hardly an unworthy experience (besides, I hear they didn’t go on until almost 1 a.m. — no, ma’am!) Good and bad, these are some contemporary legends of the genre and they all delivered with pure heart and soul. If there was a standout, it was Osborne’s fantastic performance only slightly bested by Bryson’s powerful vocals. I’m looking forward to next year’s show which was already announced for Valentine’s Day, 2013.