SAN FRANCISCO The Lucy Pearl concert at Bimbo's 365 Club on Monday wasn't just a spectacular show by a supergroup composed of former members of Tony Toni Toné, En Vogue and A Tribe Called Quest.
It was a homecoming as well, as Raphael Saadiq, Dawn Robinson and Ali Shaheed Muhammad reminded their fans.
"When we did [last month's self-titled debut] album, we actually thought about [performing] at Bimbo's," Saadiq said. "Here it's small and it's close to the people," he said. He was answered by approving screams from the sold-out audience.
The supergroup touts itself as a hip-hop/soul group with an edge. Onstage, the trio applied that philosophy to fashion. As the bandmembers made their stage entrance, each wore gear that could have been swiped from the set of "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome."
Saadiq who dyed his Afro red wore tight black pants, aviator shades and a black, metal-studded crocheted poncho that showed off his chiseled chest. Muhammad had black leather pants and a traditional poncho, which he later replaced with a mustard-colored spandex T-shirt. Robinson appeared last, wearing a ripped shear top and a skirt made from an uneven piece of brown leather. She teetered on mid-calf boots with a narrow 3-inch wedged heel.
Set Includes Oldies
The band grooved through several tracks on the album, which many concert-goers knew by heart. Robinson took the lead on "Don't Mess With My Man" (RealAudio excerpt), backed by capable vocalists Monet, Barbara Wilson and Olivia Ewing.
Then Saadiq and Robinson teamed up on the ballad "Without You." They also sang some uptempo duets: "Trippin'," "Dance Tonight" (RealAudio excerpt) and "They Can't."
The concert focused on the album, but Lucy Pearl dug into the trove of hits from their respective bands.
"There's 10 years of experience on this stage 10, 10 and 10," Saadiq said, pointing to each member.
They performed snippets of such popular A Tribe Called Quest tracks as "Award Tour," "Bonita Applebum" and "Get Involved," a song Saadiq and Tribe member Q-Tip did for the soundtrack to the TV show "The PJs."
They also touched on En Vogue and Tony Toni Toné cuts. The band skipped through a medley of En Vogue's "Hold On," "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" and "Don't Let Go (Love)." They also played Tony Toni Toné's "Anniversary" and "Feels Good."
One highlight of the show was the periodic jam sessions among Saadiq, Muhammad, Robinson and the band's backing musicians. At one point, Saadiq tore through the music with an electric guitar while Muhammad a talented DJ scratched. Robinson danced wildly like a voodoo priestess in front of the drummer.
Home Sweet Home
Home was a constant theme during the show. Saadiq gave props to his native Oakland, Calif., and Robinson gave shout-outs to San Leandro, Calif., where she grew up. Other members of the backing band hail from California and had family members in the crowd. Guitar player Kenya, bass player Elijah Baker and Monet call Oakland home.
Saadiq pulled his father, brother and fellow Tony Toni Toné member Dwayne Wiggins onstage. Wiggins and Saadiq sang a few bars of the #1 R&B hit "Whatever You Want" from 1990's The Revival.
"Without Dwayne Wiggins, there would be no Raphael Saadiq," Saadiq said.
"I like how Raphael brought his brother onstage. There were rumors that [Tony Toni Toné weren't] getting along," 31-year-old Oakland resident Oliver Fauer said. "There was a lot of love through the whole show," added Fauer, who bought Lucy Pearl the day it was released.
Better Late Than Never
Lucy Pearl irked some fans by starting the show an hour late. It was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., but the bandmembers didn't pick up their instruments until 9:17.
"It was a great concert, but it started late," Cham Rin of Oakland said. "They should have had an opening act [to fill the time gap]."
Also, Muhammad's role in the performance raised some questions. He contributed loops, drum programming, turntable skills and bass on the album. But during the concert he seemed to play second fiddle to Saadiq and Robinson's overpowering vocal abilities. He used his DJ skills on some songs, but halfheartedly played bongos for most of the performance.
"I though that he was underutilized," said San Jose, Calif., resident Todd Inoue, 34. Inoue also didn't like that the band teased the audience with snippets of A Tribe Called Quest tunes but played full songs from En Vogue's and Tony Toni Toné's albums, he said.
"They should have done a full three-song set [of the rap group's music. Muhammad] was all over the album but [here] he was tapping away on bongos."
Although the group didn't perform "Hollywood," a straight-up rock-influenced number, the rock leanings of the band were clear. The band made its entrance to wild guitar riffs and ended the concert with a hard-edged rock interlude.
"We're gonna rock y'all out of here," Saadiq said before ending the show.
The rock songs had a mixed effect on the R&B fans in the crowd. Some thrashed their heads along with the band, while others waited politely until the stormy segments were over.