Boyz II Men and TLC illuminate golden era of R&B at Hollywood Bowl

Friday night the Hollywood Bowl was lit up for all-things 90s nostalgia, featuring two of the most successful groups of all time, Boyz II Men and TLC. the double billed night of hits included dancers and DJ Bubz joining TLC and for Boyz II Men’s set, the group was accompanied by conductor Thomas Wilkins and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Photo by Farah Sosa

DJ Bubz kicked off the TLC portion, with several minutes of hits on a lofted stage, playing the best of the 90s, from Lauryn Hill to Busta Rhymes, from “Poison” to “Pony”. TLC’s logo was emblazoned on the screen in pastel pink and blue hues, with four dancers taking the stage, joining T-Boz and Chilli in glittering silver costumes. TLC brought the hits in full form including “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg”, with T-Boz’s sultry tone all over the verses and “What About Your Friends” was lively, leaving Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’ verse intact. 

Chilli and T-Boz greeted the crowd, with Chili saying, “First off, all I wanna say is that we’ve very happy to be here tonight. Some of you have been here since the beginning, almost 30 years and we thank you for that”.

Photo by Farah Sosa

1992 feel-good hit “Baby-Baby-Baby” didn’t sound the least bit dated, keeping the crowd grooving along to vocals that were on point including  a wonderful bridge from Chilli. TLC also had a full band on stage throughout their performance, with horns blasting on the flirtatious “Diggin’ On You”, as T-Boz handled the first verse and Chilli danced her way across the stage. The horns completely owned the moment on “Creep”, resounding in a fiery way, with T-Boz and Chilli sounding stellar on the vocals while the dancers worked the floor. After this highlight, the ladies (who had the foresight to run with the digital era on their third album FanMail) took the crowd to their late 90s era performing “Stupid Ho”, “Fanmail” and their last #1 hit “Unpretty”, a lovely female empowerment ballad that completely resonated with fans.

The stage was flush in red for the inescapable “Red Light Special”, with the dancers grinding low to the floor, with wonderful vocals from both ladies and Chilli sitting on a stool for her part. It remains one of the sexiest jams of the 90s. Chilli talked to the crowd before the next one, previewing what was to come about a guy with no job, who doesn’t take care of his kids and who doesn’t have a car. It was of course “No Scrubs”, with the crowd singing and clapping along by the end with the dancers’ energy super high.

DJ Bubz said, “We want to take a moment to honor Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, get your Ls up”. The crowd did just that and TLC played their international hit with fans’ lights illuminating the crowd at the Bowl. It was a special moment as Left Eye’s iconic verse played while T-Boz and Chilli performed the noticeable choreography from the very popular music video.

Photo by Farah Sosa

Boyz II Men‘s set started with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra playing a medley of the R&B trio’s songs including “A Song for Mama”, led by conductor Thomas Wilkins. Comedian Jo Koy quickly took the stage to introduce Boyz’s II Men’s Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman, saying, “This is the greatest group to ever touch the microphone”.

Wanya and Shawn were dressed in crisp black formalwear, while Nathan had a black-on-blue look, starting off with the heartfelt ballad “Oh Well”. Their lovely harmonies and the orchestra blended beautifully, topped off by Wanya’s winning runs. They bowed in unison at the end, like they did following several songs.

It was a welcome opening, showcasing the guys’ voices, while the sweeping magic of the orchestra elevated the sound. “Good evening, before we continue how about giving a huge round of applause for our sisters, TLC” said Stockman. He thanked Jo Koy for the introduction and continued, “Allow us to introduce ourselves, we are Boyz II Men, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Please give it up for Thomas Wilkins and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra”.

Applause after applause, they added that their formative years took place at performing arts school where they were exposed to classical music and that this was “kind of like a homecoming”.

Stockman’s opening verse of “On Bended Knee” was wonderful, with fans singing throughout the entire song. Stars shot out from the screen behind the guys and it was as timeless as ever, with shining moments from each singer, the orchestra and some standout final runs from Stockman. Wanya took the reins on a rather cinematic “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”, with the strings crying throughout. Wanya smashed it on his vocal acrobatics and the harmonies were absolutely glorious.

Nathan started the minor key ballad “Girl in the Life Magazine” in Spanish, switching over to English for a really mysterious rendition. Stockman got the fans out of their chairs for “Water Runs Dry”, and the trio moved with swagger like a group from the 60s or 70s, before facing one another on the final chorus. “I Will Get There” which was featured on the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt showcased some big notes and amazing harmonies, with its inspirational, gospel-leaning vibe.

Photo by Farah Sosa

“Boyz II Men have always been about the music,” said Wanya. “There’s never anything more that we’ve wanted to do than sing for you. You’ve supported us for over 30 years. Music has changed but we strive to remain the same. But right now you’re about to witness a change, let’s go”. Boyz II Men then played a completely unexpected range of hit covers including Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, with Wanya blowing everyone away with his vocal as the orchestra’s strings were singing along.

Stockman and Nathan looked rather comfortable playing guitars as the guys performed Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, followed by “American Woman”, with both Stockman and Wanya on lead vocals. The covers continued with Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven”, with Wanya showing off some moves and it was a cover Bruno would be floored by. Then a lively, totally unexpected cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” was next, slightly psychedelic and totally cool. The trio capped this section of the show with Journey’s “Open Arms”, while the fans sang along to the stunning version, as a heart was bursting on the screen behind Boyz II Men.

The crooners performed “The Color of Love” with Nathan’s brilliant baritone voice and Shawn took over the song’s pretty second verse. They told the crowd, “no offense to the fellas, but this next song is for the ladies”, playing “I’ll Make Love To You”. The orchestra made this hit particularly special, and the horns had some standout moments. Nathan started the romantic anthem and Wanya offered a powerful climax, accented by the orchestra.

Nathan said, “Thank you for coming out for the last 30 years of our career. This is definitely a different style than what you’re used to, but this is what we put together to create Boyz II Men”. He pointed to the orchestra and continued, “These musicians, they need the help. Kids don’t really understand that violin sounds come from violins and not keyboards. So you need to support musicians like these so we can continue doing this”. It was apropos that Boyz II Men concluded with the record-breaking “End of the Road”, with the entire Bowl crowd singing. It remains one of the timeless R&B ballads of the 20th century, ending with a cappella harmonies that blew the roof off and clearly gave fans chills.

Though the crowd experienced a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience, many fans looked around at one another following the song, wondering if there would be an encore, which is rarely done at the Hollywood Bowl. The die-hards were clearly looking to hear “Motownphilly”, the hit that kicked off Boyz II Men’s career in 1991 but perhaps the up-tempo track wasn’t the right fit alongside the orchestra. Also missing was the globally-adored “One Sweet Day”, but without Mariah Carey is it really worth attempting? The greats should only perform with the greats.

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Farah Sosa