(Tracy E. Hopkins)
The first time I saw Tony! Toni! Toné! in concert, I was a sophomore at Howard University. The New Jack Swing-leaning lineup for the 1989 Homecoming concert at Cramton Auditorium also included Guy (Aaron Hall, Damian Hall and Teddy Riley).
|Photo credit for all photos: David “Odiwams” Wright|
But if you ask me which group’s music catalog resonates more deeply with me now and hits the right nostalgic notes (like in that Bee Gees “How Deep is Your Love” way), without any Verzuz battle necessary the answer would clearly be Tony! Toni! Toné!.
Although they only recorded four studio albums – the aptly titled debut Who? (1988); the star-making The Revival (1990); the crown jewel Sons of Soul (1993); and the bluesy House of Music (1996), Tony! Toni! Toné!’s music has withstood the test of time. Their sound is at once a throwback nod to old-school funk, blues and R&B pioneers like Sly Stone, the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield and a virtuosic predecessor to fellow R&B band Mint Condition and neo-soul crooners like Musiq Soulchild and D’Angelo (with whom Saadiq has collaborated). A best-of Hits collection was released in 1997.
Saadiq went solo after the group disbanded in 1998, and as a producer, composer and a vocalist he has a signature sound and a knack for making soul stirring music that moves us. Over the years, I’ve seen the masterful Saadiq perform solo at least twice, notably for 2002's Instant Vintage. So when I saw a social media tease that Tony! Toni! Toné! was reuniting with Saadiq in tow (D’Wayne and Timothy have toured with another singer), I eagerly awaited the tour dates. And in late September, I went on a grown and sexy date night to see the 'Raphael Saadiq Revisits Tony! Toni! Toné! Just Me and You Tour 2023' stop at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Dapperly and distinctly dressed, Saadiq, Wiggins and Riley took the stage and launched into early tracks including “If I Had No Loot," "Baby Doll,” and “Tonyies! In the Wrong Key.” And a video installation paid homage to their Oakland, California roots and celebrated other beloved Bay-area artists like Sly and the Family Stone, Sheila E. and Digital Underground.
Early in the show, however, Saadiq knew exactly what to do to get the audience on its feet and singing along. “I hate to do this to you, New York,” he said before shifting gears into one of the Tonyies!’s most memorable hits, “It Never Rains (In Southern California).” “Now it may be cold on the East coast. But on the other side of town, it never rains…”
Since the Wiggins brothers haven’t performed together in 25 years, initially they seemed a bit out of step on stage. But at one point Saadiq went over and did a little shimmy with his big brother. And once problems with his microphone were resolved, the audience exclaimed with joy as D’Wayne sang lead on the slow jams “Whatever You Want” and “Slow Wine.” He even opened a few buttons on his silver sequined shirt to let us know his mack game is still strong.
After D’Wayne’s turn in the spotlight, Saadiq returned to the stage wearing a bucket hat covering his locs, a black T-shirt, and magenta sequined joggers. He launched into the Al Green-reminiscent “Thinking of You” and the groovy “I Couldn’t Keep It to Myself,” which prompted a chorus of ladies to sing and swoon along, Showtime at the Apollo-style.
Midway through the concert, Saadiq performed several of his biggest solo hits sans Wiggins, while Riley continued on keyboards. In fine and full voice, he sang "You Should Be Here,” recorded with D’Angelo and in D's absence he mimicked his mumble soul vocals; “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack; and Lucy Pearl’s “Dance Tonight,” where background vocalist Latoya London (an O.G. American Idol favorite) did a fine job filling in for Dawn Robison.The latter half of the two-hour-plus show had so many highlights it’s hard to note them all. But sublime standouts were “[Lay Your Head On My] Pillow,” “Just Me and You” from the Boyz N The Hood soundtrack, and “Anniversary." For me, the show could have easily ended with "Anniversary," which they really let breathe, but of course no Tony! Toni! Toné! show would be complete without the frenetic closer, “Feels Good.”
There was an encore, but I left before the Tonyies! took their final bow and went out into the clear autumn night happily humming songs that were part of the soundtrack to my young adulthood.
Don’t miss your chance to catch one of the group's remaining national tour dates:
October 5 – Boston, MA – Orpheum Theatre
October 8 – Cleveland, OH – State Theatre
October 10 – Louisville, KY – Louisville Palace
October 11 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
October 12 – Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre
October 13 – Detroit, MI – Fox Theatre
October 19 – Greensboro, NC – Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts
October 20 – Columbia, SC – The Township Auditorium
October 21 – Jacksonville, FL – Moran Theater
October 22 – Atlanta, GA – Fox Theatre
October 26 – Memphis, TN – Orpheum Theatre
October 27 – New Orleans, LA – Orpheum Theatre
October 28 – Dallas, TX – Music Hall at Fair Park
October 29 – Sugar Land, TX – Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land
November 10 – Las Vegas, NV – Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort
November 11 – Los Angeles, CA – YouTube Theater
November 14 – Oakland, CA – Paramount Theatre
November 17 – San Francisco, CA – The Masonic