Almost exactly a month ago, I was looking forward to reminiscing about high school days gone by. Color Me Badd, a group whose first album was loaded with songs my sister and I adored, was back together and playing near me. Sadly, though, the band had recently begun to fall apart, and what I thought would be a super fun evening of nostalgia was missing something. The day of the show, I realized that two former members were no longer with the group, one of them being its former lead singer, Bryan Abrams. While I understand that things are bound to happen over the course of two decades, my disappointment was undeniable. Rather than reviving the songs I most wanted to hear, they had replaced Abrams with singer/songwriter Corey Cross. To be fair, he’s a great singer; it just wasn’t the same. Thankfully, last night at the Historic Bal Theatre in San Leandro, I got to see what had been missing: Bryan Abrams.
It’s easy to wonder how a solo singer will carry the weight of a former quartet, and that was the one thing I wasn’t sure about before the show began. I also knew he only had about a twenty minute set to fill before headliner Kevon Edmonds (lead singer of After 7) took the stage. Knowing how tricky it might be for Abrams to pull off Color Me Badd songs on his own, I kept an open mind. Because of my disappointing experience last month, I knew better than to let my hopes get too high, but I still wanted what I’d missed at Color Me Badd’s show… The evening began a little later than planned, getting started around 7:30 with host comedian Daniel Dugar warming up the crowd with some funny lines. After several minutes of laughs, it was time for Abrams to open the show. He came out to no music, which could have been awkward but he handled it well, asking the crowd how everyone was doing and then saying, “where is this music?!” When it started, he teased, “let’s see if y’all remember this one” and added a quick confession: he’s having a total hip replacement surgery next week, so he’s in a great deal of pain and can’t move around as much as he might have liked to. His first song, Color Me Badd hit “I Adore Mi Amor” was all I needed. At first, I thought he was going to lipsynch because there were backing vocals (of course – I can’t imagine this song ever being sung by just one voice). But then he started to belt it out, and I could tell, without a doubt, that it was live. His voice is strong, powerful, and gorgeous: everything I remembered it to be, and everything I’d missed at the other show. During that first song, I typed this in my notes: “say what you want, but it’s obvious he’s singing live and he sounds AMAZING.” I was impressed right away, too, at his ability to pull off that song by himself. Call me biased, but I was a fan, and that’s what I’d been looking forward to hearing. (And frankly, I always argue that no one is ever truly objective in music, because it’s both personal and emotional, and we all have opinions. We do our best, but I don’t believe you can ever fully separate yourself and report “just the facts, ma’am” when it comes to music. But that is, of course, just my opinion…)
The next song, Abrams said, will be on his next solo album, which he said would be out next spring. The song, “Good As it Gets,” was super catchy, and ought to be the album’s lead single. After that came “Do it Sexy,” which is available as a free download on Abrams’ site (and SoundCloud page). “If you’re gonna do it at all, do it sexy,” Abrams quipped. Before his final song, he introduced himself to the crowd with a quick plug for his website and his active Twitter account. “Everybody’s kinda chill, in a classy mood,” Abrams noted, adding that some may know the last song and asking them to sing along. “Don’t be afraid to dance! Especially you up in the front, you have plenty of room…” As Abrams began Color Me Badd hit “I Wanna Sex You Up,” I smiled as several people throughout the venue obliged his request: in the front and in the aisles, I saw several little clusters up and dancing. When he finished, Abrams shook several hands near the stage, thanking everyone for coming out. Comic Dugar was back for a few minutes between sets, and then it was time for headliner Kevon Edmonds (pronounced “KEE-von,” in case you wondered as I did) to take the stage. Admittedly, I was in the building because I wanted to hear Abrams, but I was definitely interested in Edmonds’ set as well. I wasn’t very familiar with After 7 and honestly thought I didn’t know a single song of theirs, but as it turned out, that wasn’t true. He came out in style: rockin’ a nice suit and cool shades. “Y’all ready to have a good time?” He asked. “I said are you ready?!” First up was “Anyway,” after which Edmonds said he wanted to “keep this goin,'” but that he was going to “slow it down just a little bit,” asking if there were “any lovers in the house?” The next song, “No Love,” went out to the lovers. The guy has a very unusual, interesting voice, and it was fun to watch him do his thing. By then, however, the sunglasses I’d liked when he came out were becoming a little Corey Hart for my taste. “Thank you so much! Y’all out on a Saturday night, you don’t have a curfew. Is that right?” Then, as if he’d read my mind, he added that it was time to “take my sexy cool off and put on the glasses that allow me to see. Is that alright? Much better.” I agreed, and then he asked the audience for another round of applause for Abrams, who he called a “soldier.”
Edmonds confessed that he, too, was ailing: he recently injured his back, but “the show must go on. Let’s do this.” Next came “Never Love You” from his album 24/7. “When you know songs like that then I know you know the music! Thank you so much for coming out. It’s one thing to do a group thing, and another to do a solo. You’ve supported me in both and I appreciate you so much,” Edmonds gushed. “How many of you feel truly blessed tonight?” When the crowd cheered their response, Edmonds continued, “he’s good. He’s good all the time. I’m blessed to be here this evening. I wanna share my love this evening.” With that, it was time to get “back into 24/7, that alright with you? Can I get everyone to clap their hands?” They did, of course. The room was really into him, and it was fun to feel like a fly on the wall, especially while treated to some great live music. Next song was “Love Will Be Waiting,” and then Edmonds admitted that on stage it didn’t seem “like a lot of light, but it’s hot!” Someone shouted “take it off!” and he laughed. “Yes, can I?” As he took off his jacket, several ladies in the crowd wooed him. “Y’all screaming for old man body? This what you want?” His humor is perfect, and so entertaining. It definitely adds to his whole package. “24/7” was next, after which Edmonds asked “y’all remember that one? Ladies I didn’t really hear you singin.’ That was your first test. I’m just letting you know, okay? Test number one.” After a quick shout-out to his band, Edmonds said he wanted to “keep it sexy,” and “slow it down just a little bit for you guys,” taking it back to 1989. “How many of you guys recall the group After 7?” Lots of cheers. “I was in that group. As we get older, we earn the right to take our time and drink our drinks,” he continued before saying he was ready to “get a little sexy and slow it down,” asking, “how many of you are old school lovers? I guess if you’re in the house, you must be an old school lover, cause that’s all I’m bringing.” As Edmonds warned the house that the next set of songs were After 7 tunes that were “conditional based on audience participation,” saying, “if you know the words to these songs, let it go.” He paused to ask a little girl in the front how old she was, and when he heard “nine!” he just smiled and said, “you don’t even know, do you?” The After 7 version of “Baby I’m For Real” came next, during which Edmonds busted out a boatload of long-stemmed red roses to pass out to the crowd. I’ve seen Boyz II Men do this, and what I really appreciated about Edmonds’ version was that he came off the stage and wandered through the venue, interacting face-to-face with his fans. I saw him pass them out, but I saw hugs, and I ate it up with the rest when he stopped to slow dance with one woman. “I just asked her, ‘do you have a man?’ and she froze on me! You behave yourself!” He had to run back up onto the stage to get the rest of the roses so he could give someone’s mama a flower for her birthday, saying “happy birthday, God bless you!”
“I’m married, young lady,” he told one woman. “She said, ‘so?!’ It’s all love!” Edmonds continued, saying “you just need to know if your man is real. How do you know? If he’s willing to get on his knees…” Up next was “Ready or Not,” and the crowd took it to church, singing along. “The party just started! Y’all remember this?” It was “Can’t Stop,” and the one song of After 7’s I’d heard before. It was awesome live. “It took an After 7 joint to wake you up!” Edmonds teased. “Wow. It goes by so fast, it’s like ‘what’s happening?’ Is this my last song?” Someone shouted, “no!” from the crowd, but he insisted, “well, it’s gettin’ close, I’ll tell you that.” Before beginning the next song, Edmonds whispered, “ladies, I dedicate this to my wife. See that, fellas? A little truth. She wanted me to sing it for our wedding, but I just couldn’t do it. It was my day too! A little information you didn’t need to know…” The song was “Who Knew,” and his upper register reminded me a little of Michael Jackson. (Trust me: from me, that’s intended to be a huge compliment.) “Never Let You Down” was next, after which Edmonds said, “I must say you all have been a very wonderful audience,” adding that it was “very close to that time. Thank each and every one of you for coming out this evening.” He called the night “enjoyable,” saying, “I’ve had fun, hope you have too.” The last song was to the audience, the title track to his newest album, “Oh.” “Sing along,” he requested. “It’s real easy: just one syllable.” As Edmonds unbuttoned his shirt a little, he said it was “time to get sexy.” When the women in the room squealed and fawned over him: “Ladies. You need to know. And gentlemen! Make a good thing last.” As he put his sunglasses back on, Edmonds asked if there were any “singers in the house? Y’all think y’all can sing, don’t ya?” The song ended with a bit of a call & response, audience participation style singing. “You are talented!” Edmonds praised. “We love ya, peace!” And that was it: a sweet little trip down memory lane. And yes: it was everything I wanted it to be, a month delayed.