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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

KBLX Brings a Not So Quiet Storm to Sleep Train Pavilion

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Charlie Wilson and his winged angel dancers.
  • Charlie Wilson and his winged angel dancers.

KBLX Stone Soul Concert

Sunday, May 29, 2011

@ Sleep Train Pavilion

Better than: Not hollering and dancing for nine hours

KBLX 102.9 FM has long been known as the "Quiet Storm," but until we attended the Stone Soul Concert on Sunday, we had no idea that the station could throw a nine-hour, hands-in-the-air party capable of drawing almost 13,000 people out to Concord.

But there we were, bouncing, hooting, and waving our arms all day and into the night, enjoying lengthy sets from Alexander O'Neal, El DeBarge, Bell Biv Devoe, the O'Jays, and Charlie Wilson and taking in some incredible peoplewatching of the predominantly black and over-40 crowd that, by measure of cheering, largely hailed from Oakland.

click to enlarge The day was filled with much jamming and hands in the air action.
  • The day was filled with much jamming and hands in the air action.

"We don't take ourselves too seriously up here," said Alexander O'Neal toward the end of his opening set. "It's not brain surgery; it's just singing."

O'Neal is best known for "Saturday Love," his enduring 1985 hit with Cherrelle. Writer Maurice Garland crafted an amazing tale about why the pair might be the greatest R&B soap opera of all time. So when Cherrelle came out energetic and glowing in an orange top and white pants to perform the song with him, we got to experience an '80s moment that we thought would never be recreated onstage in the Noughties.

As they sang their famous last refrain, "Never on Sunday, Monday's too soon, Tuesday and Wednesday just won't do. Thursday and Friday, the weekend begins, but our Saturday love will never end, sugar," they repeated the sugar part over and over as they did some playful bumping and grinding.

"Bay Area, how you doing? It's El DeBarge at your service, here with my second chance!"

DeBarge sounded youthful hitting his distinctive falsetto highs and was very graceful as he maneuvered through a set punctuated by a few technical difficulties with his keyboard; fortunately, this happened after banging out the melodies to "Stay with Me," the song that was infamously sampled by Notorious B.I.G. for his rap hit "One More Chance."

Without a hint of being flustered, DeBarge used the moments where his keyboard was being looked at to work the stage (and especially the ladies gathered at the front for the chance to touch him as he sang "All This Love"). Once it had been properly tinkered with, he returned to the keys to unleash a ferocious cover of Marvin Gaye's "Want You to Want Me."

He paused to give some special love to the people in the back. "You're just as important as the people in the front," he said. "I was in the back once, and God put me in the front because he knew I'd represent you."

DeBarge, who was released from prison in 2009 after being incarcerated for two years on charges of crack and cocaine possession, may have recently emerged from rehab after reportedly suffering a relapse that caused him to cancel tour dates earlier this year (including a March gig in Oakland). He announced that this performance was the start of his new tour to promote his album Second Chance, which was released in late 2010, but it appears the itinerary is still to be determined.

click to enlarge Stone Soul offered beautiful people-watching.
  • Stone Soul offered beautiful people-watching.

Bell Biv DeVoe (not so quiet) stormed onstage in matching green and white kicks and outfits, three white-clad female booty-shaking dancers not far behind. The trio danced on full blast and teased the crowd with classic New Edition cuts like "Mr. Telephone Man," "Cool It Now," and "Candy Girl," with Ricky Bell challenging himself to hit all the high notes he did when he was a kid performing those songs. And amid BBD jams like "Poison" and "Do Me," their DJ cleverly mixed in snippets of popular rap refrains, including local anthems "Tell Me When to Go" by E-40 and "Blow the Whistle" by Too $hort, to give the set a contemporary feel even though the hits were from the '90s.

Respect to the legendary O'Jays for getting the older segments of the crowd on their feet, but we didn't understand why they came next as the sun was setting when BBD had really gotten everyone moving. Still, it was fascinating to watch the sole remaining original O'Jay, Eddie Levert, hold his female fans in absolute thrall as he broke down what he would like to do to them, and nice to hear their timeless tunes such as "Back Stabbers," "Unity," "People Get Ready/Love Train," "Give the People What They Want," and "For the Love of Money."

KBLX DJs from the World Famous Rick & Russ Show kept the gaps in between the sets surprisingly lively with well-selected cuts from Sly and the Family Stone and Kraftwerk. We particularly loved hearing the electro beats pumping out of such a loud sound system; we know we're old, but this is really our idea of a Quiet Storm.

We had high expectations for Charlie Wilson, but they were exceeded from the first moment of his awesomely over-the top closing set. He was introduced by three men -- who looked like they were snatched up from guarding Buckingham Palace -- blowing impossibly huge gold horns to announce the former Gap Band lead singer's arrival onstage, which came with Wilson hoofing it across stage with four of his own version of the Rockettes and belting out the Gap Band's last hit, "Party Train." His show featured enough costume changes to make Lady Gaga envious, and astutely blended his Gap Band jams with his appearances on Snoop Dogg's "Signs" and "Beautiful," creating fresh verses for the latter.

Like DeBarge, Wilson suffered for many years in thrall to cocaine and crack. He stopped his songs for a moment to launch into a preacher-style musical sermon on the tough road he's been on and give some glory to God: "I went from rags to riches, riches to rags, rags to the curb, curb to homeless. I don't think you heard me!" He briefly danced around as if the Holy Ghost were collaborating.

As he detailed his 17-year sobriety from a 25-year addiction to alcohol and crack, many of those who had been seated to take a breath from dancing leaped to their feet to cheer his achievement. And he really has turned his life around: His 2009 and 2010 albums Uncle Charlie and Just Charlie have yielded number one Adult Contemporary and Top 10 R&B hits and placed him on a path to continue a successful comeback. Wilson and the rest of these acts, many of whom have faced strikingly similar setbacks, all sounded healthy and vibrant on this Stone Soul Sunday.

click to enlarge The Pavilion's got a rather picturesque view.
  • The Pavilion's got a rather picturesque view.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: Knows so many of the ad-libs for Wilson's and O'Neal's '80s hits that it's probably a problem.

Random detail: Wilson supports the Prostate Cancer Foundation with a portion of the sales of the sparkly fedoras that were the highlight of the merch booths.

By the way: KBLX will host another Stone Soul Concert in October, but has not yet announced the lineup.

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