Dru Hill homecoming has little harmony

Concert review

July 21, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun pop music critic

A decade has passed since Dru Hill was relevant on the pop charts. Despite the time away and recent, somewhat contentious personnel changes, the '90s Baltimore R&B group, which headlined Artscape on Saturday night, has maintained the crisp dance moves and churchy harmonies.

But the hourlong show was rather shapeless, and the quartet often overstuffed songs with seemingly endless vocal riffs and melismatic runs that bordered on parody.

Mark "Sisqo" Andrews - the flashy, pint-sized lead singer who sports a blond mohawk these days - opened with a mini-set that summed up his successful but brief solo stint. Flanked by three male dancers, he mostly performed the acrobatic, hyperactive choreography, managing here and there to wail a line or two of his "hits" medley. After rushing through two numbers, he paused long enough to address the near-capacity crowd covering the sloping hill in front of the main stage on Mount Royal Avenue: "Welcome to the Sisqo show."

That cleared up the reason the performance was billed Dru Hill, featuring Sisqo. The grainy-voiced singer-songwriter is still his own entity, never mind the fact that he hasn't released a solo album since 2001's Release the Dragon. Apparently, he's working on a belated follow-up titled Last Dragon. Although no release date has been announced, Sisqo previewed the album with a song he sang to a pre-recorded track. The midtempo number, boasting a synthetic snap-beat and layered background vocals, is almost indistinguishable from his previous hits. He capped his set with his two smashes: the infamous "Thong Song" and the emotional ballad "Incomplete."

Afterward, he joined Dru Hill. Backed by a rather anonymous-sounding five-piece band, the quartet shortchanged its best R&B hits, 1996's bouncy "Tell Me" and the swaggering "In My Bed (Remix)," singing just the chorus. Then the guys moved into the ballads and showboat vocalizing that dominated the show.

First up was the group's newest recruit, an Annapolis singer who goes by the name Tao. Replacing founding member James "Woody" Green, he took center stage and wailed and wailed, dipping and soaring, stretching his full tenor to the point of exhaustion. But none of it was impressive.

Next, Larry "Jazz" Anthony stacked riff on top of riff during "Never Make a Promise." After a solid four minutes of this, it seemed as though the song, one of Dru Hill's better ballads, would never end. Anthony is perhaps the finest singer of the four but certainly not the most charismatic. Sisqo, who kept the showy vocals to a minimum, still holds that distinction.

But Tamir "Nokio" Ruffin - previously the quiet, most forgettable one of the bunch - was surprisingly the comic relief Saturday night. Midway into the set, he rapped Lil' Wayne's ubiquitous smash, "Lollipop," as his group mates danced behind him. His vocals were slightly slurred.

"Y'all, I'm a little loose tonight," he said later, snickering into the mic.

After a roll call of different parts of Baltimore (the west side, the east side, downtown, etc.) slowed the show's momentum, Dru Hill returned to the sexed-up balladry. The group crooned a '90s slow jam medley, which included Johnny Gill's "My My My" and Mint Condition's "Pretty Brown Eyes."

The quartet finished with a cut from its coming album, InDRUpendence Day. During the song, yet another come-on ballad, the guys promised to "get freaky and loose." Though the cut lacked the verve and flowing melody of its biggest hits, Dru Hill sang it like a group hungry for the spotlight again.


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