One of the chief complaints longtime hitmakers face when they perform is that they play too much of “the new stuff” when fans want to hear only the hits.
For Sunday’s concert at the Blaisdell Arena, Boyz II Men must have listened to that ages-old criticism, as they brought a tight set — only 72 minutes — that was packed with all their hits and no filler. Even the few covers they included had purpose, showing off their skill at taking songs from other genres and making them their own.
The trio laid it down from the open. They strutted out, clad in varying white ensembles, to a tape of their hit “Thank You” and launched into their breakthrough smash, 1991’s “Motownphilly,” backed by a four-piece band.
Age may have tamed their dance moves a tad, but their voices — Nathan Morris’ versatile baritone and Wanya Morris’ and Shawn Stockman’s soaring tenors — were as fine as ever.
Next up was their 1994 No. 1 hit “On Bended Knee,” which had the audience on a high even before Stockman struck the title pose to close with a flourish and slipped in a shaka for the locals. The evening was full of nice touches and audience interaction such as that.
“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” followed and was the night’s lone disappointment. It showed great promise for some chickenskin moments, with Wanya Morris riffing impressively as they went a cappella, but the Boyz cut it short when it felt deserving of a full version.
That song aside, even the covers went over well, with Stockman taking to the guitar and Nathan Morris the bass guitar for a medley of Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Jamming” Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” the Guess Who’s “American Woman” and “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, the local favorite’s hit getting the biggest response, though its staccatos are not a great match for Wanya Morris’ smoother vocal style.
Full versions of the Beatles’ “Come Together” and Journey’s “Open Arms” also went over well, as the group spared no guitar in the performance of the former and showed the deft touch and grandeur you’d expect with the latter.
Even such detours from their classics were not low points, but the real high points, the songs that made the arena go crazy, were of course their biggest hits.
Boyz II Men made sure that everything the audience would want made the set, including their underrated fifth No. 1 hit “4 Seasons of Loneliness” from 1997 and the emotional “A Song for Mama,” which featured some cool vocal interplay from the trio and was received warmly by the audience.
But as strong as the reaction was for “Mama,” the three highest highs were Boyz II Men’s three biggest chart-toppers, which sandwiched “Mama” to close the show.
For “I’ll Make Love to You,” which had the audience in a tizzy from the opening notes, all three members passed out roses to the audience, with Wanya Morris even kissing one fan on the hand. This was a nice bit of full circle for Hawaii R&B concertgoers, as Johnny Gill did the same when he played the Blaisdell in 2012 with New Edition, the band whose song the Boyz got their name from.
The penultimate number had the audience screaming even before it began, as Nathan Morris mentioned how rarely they play it live because it requires a female singer. Fans knew this meant it was “One Sweet Day,” their record-holding No. 1 collaboration with Mariah Carey. The diva did not play the bittersweet ballad when she visited the same venue in November 2016, and the crowd was excited to hear it Sunday. That Nathan Morris asked the ladies in the audience to help out on Carey’s part took them to another level. Fortunately, the audience’s fairer half was up to the task. No one’s Mariah, but the thousands of women in attendance filled in ably.
The Boyz’s set closed, fittingly, with “End of the Road,” which put a nice bow on a quick, clean show.
Olivia Thai opened for Boyz II Men with a solid half-hour set, showing off a pleasing jazz-pop vocal style that the on-time arrivers seemed to enjoy, chanting “hana hou” to stretch her planned six songs to seven.
That turned out to be a very good thing, as Thai let her vocals soar on the ballad “#WhyIStay,” making one wonder why it wasn’t included in the first place.
Overall, Thai exhibits great promise, though her inexperience shows in her modest stage presence. Her music connected with the audience — itself no meager feat for an opening act — but she could have taken it to an even higher level with a bit more movement and eye contact.