When it comes to eras with the best music releases, the mid-nineties has to be a part of the debate. In 1994, interesting, challenging and innovative artists dominated the charts as Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Nas’ Illmatic and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe counted among the year’s notable releases. And when it comes to defining the best albums of one of the best years of music, TLC’s Diamond-certified release, CrazySexyCool – overflowing with hits like “Waterfalls,” “Diggin’ on You,” and “Red Light Special” – is the gold standard for genre-fusing, chart-topping sounds.
On Sept. 15, TLC invited fans to join them on a blast to the past during their Chicago-area Celebration of CrazySexyCool Tour stop at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. Though the night was dominated by tunes written 20-plus years ago, the group’s performance was rooted in the present as they met the current cautious yet celebratory mood of the moment in the wake of the pandemic and the joyous return of live music.
TLC – comprised of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, and the late-Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes who died following a tragic car accident in 2002 – has always represented the power that exists when distinct individuals come together without fear of losing themselves to create magic as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That positive vibe of self-love and community reverberated throughout the crowd during the Wednesday night concert just as it does on all their albums.
Following an opening performance from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, TLC kicked-off their set the only way a concert in honor of CrazySexyCool should, with “Creep.” T-Boz and Chilli first appeared on stage at the top of a platform, surrounded by dancers and a DJ, clad in shiny silk pajamas just as they were in the hit single’s iconic music video. A wardrobe change soon followed as did a string of fan favorites including “Silly Ho,” “Way Back” – on which T-Boz’s sultry, smoky vocals and Chilli’s pretty, inviting melodies supported each other as they sang of enduring friendship – and “What About Your Friends” featuring a recording of Left Eye’s legendary verse.
When a band member passes away, especially in a group where everyone is a true equal, it can be tough to properly honor that person while touring in their absence. The Grateful Dead coped with this conundrum by changing their name following the passing of Jerry Garcia and Bruce Springsteen added an entire horn section to the E Street Band after saxophonist Clarence Clemons died. With TLC, Left Eye lives on during each performance, her unadulterated voice still connecting straight to the hearts of fans through original recordings.
“No one can fill Lisa’s shoes,” said Chilli in a recent interview with Billboard.
Before playing “American Gold” and “Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes,” T-Boz led a poignant moment of reflection on the events of the past two years noting everything from George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests to presidential politics to the pandemic. She and Chilli offered gratitude for healthcare workers, the troops, and frontline workers all of whom were displayed on video screens, along with images of people coming together in racial unity, during the two songs that felt like they could have been written today.
The night may have been a celebration of CrazySexyCool, complete with all of the nostalgia that entails, but it also felt like a magnificent opportunity to reconnect with old friends – on stage and in the crowd – while creating new memories fueled by a shared love of the timeless music of TLC.
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