The three young women of Destiny’s Child, the reigning girl group of pop and R&B, proved themselves to be worthy headliners at Wednesday night’s MTV-sponsored “TRL” tour held at the HSBC Arena. The concert borrowed its name from the commonly-used abbreviation for MTV’s daily countdown show, “Total Request Live.” And like that program, the tour’s lineup included a multitude of youth-skewing acts, many with dubious talents.
That wasn’t the case with Destiny’s Child, however. For over an hour the songbird trio served up its compelling, accessible and important brand of fashion-plate-feminism, offering empowering messages to its largely female fans in such a way that seemed less like preaching and more like good advice coming from one’s best-dressed gal pal. The group’s zippy tunes encouraged its female listeners to be “Independent Women;” to demand fairness and reciprocity from boyfriends (“Bills Bills Bills,” “Say My Name”); and to speak up if they’ve been sexually abused. After member Kelly Rowland sang “A Story of Beauty,” about a girl who is molested by her stepfather, the following message flashed cross the overhead monitors: “Never Be Afraid To Tell.”
Part of the reason why Destiny’s Child is able to make such tough messages palatable is that its tunes sound so joyously spirited, regardless of what the group is singing about. The music pops with jumping-bean-like staccato rhythms. And lead singer Beyonce Knowles, who also co-writes and co-produces much of the group’s material, provides a thrilling vocal roller coaster ride on each song. Many of the act’s biggest hits often begin with Knowles singing in swift kinetic spurts before later belting out soaring gospel-influenced melismas. Knowles asserted herself as an energetic and engaging presence during the show, whipping her wavy blonde mane around in circles and strutting around the stage with a hip-swaying swagger.
The other women in the group were no slouches either. Newest member Michelle Williams sang with an intriguingly mature breathy rasp. And Rowland exuded a charming streetwise sass during the group’s current No. 1 single, “Bootylicious,” which samples its rippling guitar riff from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” The group performed this as a tribute of sorts to Michael Jackson, donning 1980s-era fedoras and dancing down a lighted staircase while the band mixed in musical strains of Jackson’s smash “Billie Jean.”
In addition to Destiny’s Child, rapper Eve also gave an entertaining and substantial set. She deftly executed the tough-girl-boasts that fuel her hits such as “What Ya Want,” “Who’s That Girl,” and the current single, which is produced by Dr. Dre and features vocals from No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, “Let Me Blow Your Mind.” But she also played her most moving hit to date, “Love Is Blind,” in which she mourns a female friend who is killed by her abusive boyfriend. “I considered her my blood/And it ain’t come no thicker,” she rapped during the heavyhearted tune.
Unfortunately, none of the other performers on the bill offered moments that were as poignant or as skillful. Rapper Nelly, the show’s lone male act, brought his group, the St. Lunatics, with him. The set indulged in the worst hip-hop show cliche, where there seem to be a million people on stage, rapping at the same time, so that all you hear is a muddled mess. Nelly has become a huge pop star in the last year because of his scream-worthy teen idol looks and his smashes “Country Grammar,” “E.I.,” and “Ride With Me,” which all have an infectious, nursery rhyme sing-a-long quality to them.
But all of these songs, including his latest single, “Batter Up,” which cribs its chorus from the theme to “The Jeffersons,” come off as disposable novelties. And the fact that he’s been able to score a string of consecutive hits seems more like a case of dumb luck than an argument for his artistic worth.
The other “TRL” tour acts were virtually indistinguishable. Their urban-lite songs sounded the same, and their mid-riff bearing outfits were basically identical. The so-called “three little women” of 3LW, who took the stage wearing orange jumpsuits, almost had the distinction of being the most fully dressed act on the bill until they later ripped off their body-covering outfits.
The female quartet Dream, which has now performed in Buffalo three times this summer, had a notable spunky attitude. And, as for the oversinging, awkwardly dancing Jessica Simpson, thankfully there was only one of her. Youth acts like these, not older radio programmers or jaded kids, are going to deaden the waning teen pop genre, because they fail to provide an aesthetic justification for why they should exist or why we should care about them.