Probably the biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s My2K Tour concert at Sands Bethlehem Event Center is how well much-maligned 1990s radio pop holds up. Many of the hits played by headliners 98 Degrees still sounded good, and even fresh. Songs by O-Town, Dream and Ryan Cabrera also held up.
Another takeaway was that the acts, for the most part, did a good job of updating themselves. Particularly good at that was girl group Dream -- whose members, now all are in their 30s, were most successful in updating not just the music, but their image, too.
The show wasn’t perfect; it fell into some of the trappings of any retro music offering. But not that many, and the bottom line was it was surprisingly good.
Here are our Top 6 reactions to the show.
- 1990s music was good, and holds up
Despite 98 Degrees’ Nick Lachey rhapsodizing halfway through his band’s set about how great ‘90s music was (to put it in context, he praised Limp Bizkit), few people will argue that the 1990s represented any sort of high-water mark for music.
But the hits all four acts played were surprisingly good.
98 Degrees’ mid-set version of its gold hit “The Hardest Thing” showed not only that it remains a good song, but the group performed it well. “Invisible Man,” the group’s 1997 breakthrough song, also was strong.
O-Town, performing as a quartet without Ashley Parker Angel, actually opened its 35-minute, 10-song set with its breakthrough old hit “Liquid Dreams,” as if to show it still has it, and followed it with its minor hit “Girl.” Later, “We Fit Together” also still was good.
Dream took it a step further by updating its hit “This Is Me” as a slower, more mature song that was even better than the original.
And even Cabrera, who opened the show with a six-song, 28-minute set, did well by closing with a version of his biggest hit, “On the Way Down,” that stretched to six minutes with beat-boxing, two guitar breaks and a snippet of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.”
- It was best when it was freshest
Retro shows often walk a fine line between retaining the elements that drew fans in the first place and being able to move forward as artists.
Dream was bar far the best at that. It updated its 30-minute, seven-sold set perfectly: The years gave the group – its members just 15 when its started – the latitude to now be sensual and mature.
Member Melissa Schuman said she wasn’t sure its members understood the song “In My Dreams” when they first performed it, “but we sure do now. You ready for us?” And they performed it as a cabaret dance routine, with chairs and swiveled hips. “It proves you can be sexy after the age of 30,” Schuman said.
“Krazy” was performed as a slow groove, with member Ashley Poole saying, “we’re women – with cellulite and asses.” And Its closing “He Loves U Not,” its biggest hit, was a better song when done by women than it was done by girls.
O-Town also did a good job of being more of a man-band than a boy band, performing more appropriate dance moves on the title track of the group’s latest disc “Lines and Circles.”
Even Ryan Cabrera seemed updated. His hairdo a hybrid of his former spikes and a pompadour – though still with frosted tips – he became a singer-songwriter-guitarist on his hits “40 Kinds of Sadness” and “True,” and the set-opening newer “House on Fire,” which topped the U.S. dance chart in 2014.
98 Degrees, whose members now are all in their 40s (Drew Lachey hits that mark next week), did the least to update its image – even playing most of the show in the camo pants and military ammo vests it wore in its MTV videos.
- The good voices held up, too
Luckily, 98 Degrees’ voices, which probably were the best of the boy bands back in the day, have held up the best.
Nick Lachey sang very well on “The Way You Want Me To” and especially his solo hit “What’s Left of Me” (he preceded it with a snippet of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” in reference to the city. The who band had good harmonies on the slow, seated performance of “My Everything” and “Do You Wanna Dance.”
O-Town, whose voices never were the big attraction, did well enough during its set. Jacob Underwood did especially well on a mash-up of Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong” and Maroon 5’s “Maps” and sang a long note on the new “Playing With Fire.”
Cabrera’s voice also never was his big attraction, and it still wasn’t, though he sang better on “On the Way Down.”
When it came to singing, Dream again was best. Diana Ortiz sang especially well on Their set-opening “It Was All a Dream,” and Ashley Poole on “I Am Woman” had Ashley Poole singing especially well. “When I Get There” was so good, it made you think what might have been had Dream not broken up so quickly.
- New music
The new music the acts played wasn’t all that great. Cabrera’s “Let’s Take Our Time,” from what he said was his “new project Beyond the Sky, my first new music in a long, long time,” was OK. Dream’s “I Believe,” a female-empowerment anthem, was overwrought and its weakest song. O-Town’s “Chasin’ After You” was disco-y, and 98 Degrees’ “Microphone” from its 2013 disc “2.0” was undistinguished.
- Their outputs weren’t that deep
The show also was a reminder of how ephemeral boy-band (and girl-band) careers were in the ‘90s. Even in such short sets, all the acts except Dream relied on covers.
Cabrera stretched “I Will Remember You” with snippets of Goo-Goo Dolls’ “Slide,” Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” O-Town also quickly dipped into The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.”
And to fill out its 15-song, hourlong main set, 98 Degrees played Montel Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” and two medleys of covers.
First, an eight-minute Prince tribute of “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Delirious” and 1999 for which it brought out all the other acts. Then a 10 minute run of LFO’s “Summer Girls,” Sugar Ray’s “Fly,” Blink-182’s “All the Small Things” (“You really haven’t made it till people make fun of you in their videos,” Nick Lachey said) and Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” (complete with dance moves) that got huge reactions from the crowd.
Which brings us to …
- The crowd really was still into boy bands
Perhaps it’s understandable that the nearly sold-out, almost exclusively female crowd still loves boy bands. After all, the phenomenon faded just a little more than a decade ago, meaning the target audience for 98 Degrees and O-Town now is in their early 30s – ready for nostalgia but ready not to forget.
The crowd was polite to Cabrera, but got up out of its seats for O-Town. That band worked that angel best, encouraging people to come to the front of the stage during its hit “These Are the Days” for selfies and hand-shakes. They did, hundreds strong, and sang loudly along to the closing “All or Nothing.”
It took 98 Degrees longer, but they also ended the set by tapping into the adulation.
They brought a fan from the pre-show meet-and-greet onto stage to prepare her for her impending wedding with “I Do (Cherish You)” (She got a hand-kiss from Nick and a dance with Drew), and for the set-closing "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)" dropped huge beach balls and confetti on the crowd.
The encore of “Because of You” became a huge sing-along. A perfect way to end a show that wasn’t perfect, but was closer than you might expect.