Remember Color Me Badd? They were on an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 (helping the cast teach viewers Stalker 101, as I recall), and had a handful of hits like “I Adore Mi Amor,” “All 4 Love,” and the delicious earworm that was “I Wanna Sex You Up.” Who could resist a chance to see them back together again, right here in our glorious Bay Area? Not me! I’m not usually one to pass up such opportunities for fun nights out. (Truth: I’ve never gotten over my jealousy of editor Gordon’s experience at Bel Biv Devoe several years ago. I knew this might be my turn for such a show.) So when Friday rolled around, I roped in a girlfriend & made plans to head to Yoshi’s Oakland for a night of good times with tunes I haven’t heard in ages, but couldn’t wait to hear live!
Before I could leave the house, however, a strange turn of events quickly dashed my high hopes for the evening… I sent a few tweets saying something of my excitement for the show, and admitted I couldn’t wait to see if lead singer (and main hit songwriter) Bryan Abrams was still as hot as I remembered him to be. Before I even left the house, however, I received a private message directly from Bryan saying that, sadly, he was no longer with Color Me Badd and so wouldn’t be at the show. I knew that the band had devolved into a 3-man act over the years, but I thought it was Sam Watters that had left. (It was. Bryan’s departure, it turns out, was very recent, and details haven’t yet come out as to exactly what happened.) As I read Bryan’s message, my heart sank. I admit, I was never a giant fan who had a “favorite,” but the truth remains: without Bryan Abrams, there simply is no Color Me Badd. I was already in place to cover the show, however, so I quickly conveyed my utter disappointment at the news, told him I’d see him any time he plays a solo show around here (at San Leandro’s historic Bal Theatre, October 19th, with Kevon Edmonds, as it turns out), and proceeded to go about the rest of my evening as planned. Bryan’s next reply bummed me out: it wasn’t his choice to leave, he said.
When I got to Yoshi’s, I glanced at a poster advertising the event. I did a double take. It’s not Bryan in the photo, but there’s a resemblance. It’s weird. It registered, but then I found my friend, got to our table, and ordered a drink. At 8:02, the show began to meager screams and some weak dancing. Immediately, the level of embarrassment I felt for these guys made me uncomfortable. Because I was busy with my camera, I’m not sure I noted immediately whether or not newcomer Corey Cross was dancing, but Kevin “KT” Thornton and Mark Calderon definitely were. There was some cheering, but there was laughter, too. Not the mean-spirited kind, mind you, but they were hamming it up and the audience seemed to enjoy the comedy of it all. An interesting start, to say the least. They opened with one of their hits, “All 4 Love,” and as I watched Corey’s Bryan Abrams impression (whether it’s a “coincidence” that there’s a resemblance or it’s being played up, I don’t know), I did the unthinkable: I split my focus. While I continued to watch and listen to the show, I took out my phone and sent Bryan another quick message. Simply put, I told him that, as predicted, Color Me Badd was gone without him. (Note: this sort of behavior isn’t usually my style, and I meant no disrespect to the guys on the stage. I just couldn’t resist; it was all too fascinating.) I know that Color Me Differentt might not have the same ring to it, but it’s much more accurate. This group should change their name.
To my surprise, I spent the rest of the evening chatting off the record with the former frontman. He’s promised me an interview next month when he’s in town, so in the meantime I can’t divulge much of our conversation, but…suffice it to say it was the most surreal concert experience I’ve ever had. (Editor Gordon likened it to talking to Jon Anderson throughout an entire Yes show.) Honestly, I was afraid Bryan would misunderstand, taking me for some superfan who just was excited to be talking to him. In truth, it was only earlier that very day that I’d even bothered to learn the names of the other guys in the band! I’ve always known Bryan’s name, because he was (in my opinion, at least) the voice, face, and heart of Color Me Badd. My insistence that the group/performance was something of a hot mess wasn’t an attempt at flattery. It was just my honest opinion, passed on to the missing link, simply because I had access to him to say so.
Back onstage, one of the band members announced that they were taking us “back to 1994,” beginning with “Time and Chance.” When they began attempting to rouse the room with the tired “say hooooooo” routine, I felt another wave of embarrassment for them. Maybe for the lack of audience participation, maybe for how strange that sounded in such an intimate, tiny venue, and maybe because I can’t remember the last time I heard somebody use those words with a straight face. “How y’all feeling tonight?” Kevin asked the crowd. “So glad to be back in the Bay Area, in Oak-town. You know why?” Right on cue came a little of Tupac’s “California Love,” which of course roughly matches the time period these guys so desperately seem to want to invoke. I had hoped that I’d be seeing Color Me Badd in 2013, bringing back all the fun of their songs from the past. (Much like another mega-successful boyband has been able to do for the past five years.) Instead, what I saw was Color Me Awkwardd trying to cling to the Titanic as it sinks. Sorry, guys. If you’ve thrown the captain overboard, I certainly hope you have a lifeboat.
Various cheesy 90s beats came from the DJ, set up at the back of the stage, punctuating Kevin’s little talk with the crowd. “No disrespect to anybody, but we wanted to get back together for the love. One artist comes to mind. He’s not known as a crooner, but he set it off…” A confession: whatever song this led into, I didn’t know. When it was over: “time out, what are you doing?! Back to Color Me Badd!” and somehow, the interjection, “positivity rocks!” The conversation continued with the explanation of one positive person who impacted the lives of the group and “allowed us to bring you something special,” beginning way back in Oklahoma City when they were too young to be allowed into clubs, and briefly explaining their introduction to a member of Tony! Toni! Toné! The moments granted to original members made such an impression that they aspired one day to “be just like that with the fans,” (generous, that is) and that moment the was crowned “the heartbeat of our careers.”
“Fast forward a few years,” the group was in NYC trying to get a record deal, and happen to bump into T!T!T! D’Wayne Wiggins remembered them, and extended an invitation to a big convention, where they had their chance: “we did what we did,” singing a capella for whomever they could. There they met Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who “said something to us that changed our lives: ‘write a song in English and in Spanish.'” Needless to say, they took his advice, landed a record deal with Jive Records, and the song went to #1 on multiple charts. The story finally looped back around to the music, opening with the aforementioned “I Adore Mi Amor.” I love this song, and it was one of two I was dying to hear that night. (Also, how in the world do I know even the Spanish parts of these lyrics?! I didn’t start learning other languages until I was in my 20s, well after CMB!) I’ll say that this trio had some good moments of vocal harmony. KT sounded exactly the same as he used to, and that’s a good thing. (He also looks as though he’s hardly aged a day…impressive!) Mark, on the other hand, sounded shaky in places, and I cringed more than once. As for the new guy, Corey…at this point in the show I had yet to put my finger on what didn’t work for me. He’s got a nice voice, and I enjoyed it at several points throughout the set. Specifically, though, I realized later that the areas that didn’t work (where his voice cracked or didn’t quite do what he wanted it to) were the parts of the evening he was trying to fill Bryan’s shoes. Any time he was onstage as himself, he did well. Any time he was “Bryan Abrams lite,” he failed. And that’s his mistake.
Speaking of the new guy, it was at this point in the show that the originals formally introduced him to the crowd. His a capella solo was another song I don’t know well, called “Hush.” Next was more conversation, this time KT and Corey explaining that Corey had had some success on YouTube, as well as winning Showtime at the Apollo. A Corey solo followed, which was his version of Leon Russell’s oft-covered “A Song for You,” and was very nice. (Again, I must ask: why is this man trying to be someone else? He’s much better when he shines in his own skin.) New song “Skywalkin'” came next, which was recently offered as a free download on the group’s website, alongside a plea for donations to the Red Cross for victims of the Moore, OK tornado (which literally hit close to home for at least one then-member of the band).
Next, it was time to “break it down.” Mark said, “let’s bring out the stools!” but no one did. Oldie “Thinkin’ Back” was next, and at this point I made a note: “truth: my conversation with BA is much more interesting, but the reminiscent tunes don’t suck.” Next came a brief homage to “others that paved the way,” mentioning New Edition, and before that, the Jackson 5, and before that, The Temptations, which segued to a delightful cover of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” that I thoroughly enjoyed. Up next was a song produced by David Foster called “Close to Heaven.” Finally, out came the stools for real, as the guys proclaimed they were “gonna relax a little bit” with a medley beginning with their “best record on the Time and Chance record,” “Wildflower.” Again I made a note of Corey’s vocal skills. “The Earth, The Sun, The Rain” wrapped up their brief breakdown on the stools.
“DJ Steve, hit it!” Back came that cheesy fun 90s stuff, starting with Rob Base’s “It Takes Two,” which just made me laugh. Even better, some random drunk young woman wandered uninvited onto the momentarily empty stage to twerk for the audience. Subtly, she was escorted off before the guys returned to perform a decent cover of “No Diggity,” after which there was more of the awkward attempts at crowd-rousing: “do you feel good? Real good?” and my favorite, more of the “say hooooooo!!” that I swear I heard fall, nearly unanswered, to the floor. I wish I could say that I found this performance anything more than overwhelmingly embarrassing for these guys, overall. They had some good moments, but if I had had my heart set on seeing Color Me Badd and reliving those moments of glorious 90s R&B/pop music, I would have been crushed. Instead, it was a very strange evening, to say the least. The set concluded with two things: the first was the audience being told to “get up on your feet!” for the first time all evening, so we could dance to the final song on the set, the I-feel-no-guilt-in-this-pleasure-I-feel hit “I Wanna Sex You Up”. And the second summed up the success of the evening: an invitation for those interested to stay for the next show at 10pm. I can’t imagine that’s ever a good sign…
All in all, it was the most unusual experience at a show I’ve ever had. Yes, partly that was because I was dishing all evening with Bryan (off the record, for now), which was a bit surreal given that his absence is what’s responsible for 80% of my problems with the band’s current incarnation. But it just felt sad for the remaining members, and they’re not ready to let Color Me Badd go. I can’t blame Corey Cross for accepting the invitation to join the group, but I wish he wouldn’t try to fill a void. One thing I have to say again is that this group should change its name. It’s not enough for Kevin to call them “Color Me Badd 2.0,” which he did. I understand they aren’t likely to take my suggestion of “Color Me Awfull,” and why. Bottom line: move in a new direction, boys; this isn’t working very well. I was initially excited to enjoy an evening of old CMB tunes, and I didn’t get what I hoped for. Would I give it another chance? Not on your life. That ship has sailed and is sinking quickly. Win some, lose some, right?
In conclusion, all I can say is that this whole experience will have no bearing on the fun I’ll still have any time I listen to the C.M.B. album with all original voices as they should be. (Which, admittedly, I haven’t owned since the 90s. But I couldn’t resist downloading it, so it’s in my library again now!) Oh, and if ever fences are mended and Bryan returns to the group, I’ll be the first one there. With or without Sam (aka “the one who looks like Kenny G”), I’d still love a chance to see what it was I thought I was in for!
In the meantime, I’m very excited to see what comes of Bryan Abrams’ solo venture. I’ll be there to check out his first solo show in San Leandro next month, so keep an eye out for that, as well as the promised “on the record” interview very soon!