BY CHAD SWIATECKI
Nostalgia gets to be a dicey proposition when actual humans are involved.
It’s one thing to lust after the pleasing memories of works of art – pop songs, movies, television shows – from long ago, since they’re locked in amber and don’t have to succumb to the effects of Father Time.
But the people who produced those works don’t have that same luxury, making throwback package tours of any musical genre a roll of lightly loaded dice. There can be some winners, but making a heavy bet is asking for disappointment.
That was pretty much the case going into the Baby Got Back To The ‘90s tour’s Friday visit to the HEB Center in Cedar Park, where a lineup of Clinton- and Bush the elder-vintage rap and R&B acts united for a four-hour run through not only their own rosters of hits but odes to dozens of other urban music pop smashes from the same time period. The lineup was straight off of a K-Tel “House Party!” compilation: Sir Mix-A-Lot, En Vogue, Naughty By Nature, Color Me Badd, Sisquo, 2 Live Crew and Tone Loc, with a series of in between sets from Austin’s DJ Mel.
Three of those names deserved asterisks of some sort to denote membership changes that altered their chemistry and stage effectiveness to varying degrees. On the “Oh dear” end of that scale were former Miami bass heroes 2 Live Crew, taking the stage with just founders Mr. Mixx and Brother Marquis (who appeared at several points to be consulting a lyric sheet prior to each of his verses).
Not the absence of former culture wars antihero Luther Campbell, whose absence on the tour has been wildly speculated over. Whatever the cause, it was a sinkhole-sized problem, with truncated bits of “Me So Horny,” and “Hoochie Mama” and a few other hits leaving gulfs in their 20 minute set. Porting that dynamic over to the rock world, if you’re the Replacements you can tour with two founding members if one of them is Paul Westerberg. But running an act billed as 2 Live Crew out on stage with no Uncle Luke was an invitation for bathroom or concessions break time, which many in the crowd at the almost filled arena seemed to do.
And the less said about Color Me Badd, the better, since the former b-boy pop quartet is scuffling along as a trio with only Mark Calderon and Bryan Abrams remaining, and Abrams struggling with the vocal lead. News reports suggest he’s faced health and legal problems and recent years, which makes the move back into the stressful world of show business somewhat questionable.
The least severe was En Vogue – now a trio anchored by founding members Cindy Herron and Terry Ellis – who were a highlight as the night’s penultimate act. With founding members now in their 50s it’d be acceptable if the group downshifted, so to speak, and lessened the fierce stage stalking and choreography of their heyday, but instead they moved confidently from sultry material (“Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” “Hold On”), the high energy feminist anthem “Free Your Mind” and new material in the form of the sassy, mid-tempo come on of “Déjà Vu.”
Those hits were broken up by a mid-set medley of other classic R&B hits from the ‘70s through the ‘90s, which was a recurring tactic throughout the evening with the help of local vinyl master Mel or the acts’ associated DJs.
A surprisingly feisty and locked-in Sir Mix-A-Lot name checked a series of golden age hip hop heroes after opening his set with the rapid-fire speed raps of “Buckin’ My Horse,” lesser hits “Posse On Broadway,” “My Hooptie” and the crowd-shaking anthem for which the tour was named.
And what a turn by closing act Naughy By Nature, who got their biggest nostalgia albatross out of the way early by dropping “O.P.P.” at the start of their 45-minute set. The rest of their stage time saw them acting every part of a veteran but still engaged rap act, attacking deeper cuts like “Feel Me Flow” with all the vigor of acts 20 years their junior. Emcees Treach and Vin Rock still know how to pace a show and deliver on the mic, whether teasing with up-front audience members, paying tribute to fallen ‘90s heroes Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. or letting the feel-good vibes of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “Hip Hop Hooray,” do their job of transporting the audience into a mid-‘90s time machine.
They, along with En Vogue and Mix-A-Lot, appeared to have enough gas in their creative reservoirs to remain relevant today even with the inevitable gray hairs and, in some cases, larger waist lines. Which is a refreshing thing to see, because while on Friday night all involved were trading on past glories, for some there’s still a way forward.