I went to see K-Ci & JoJo, the brothers that had been in the band Jodeci and then had their moment in the mid-1990s with All My Life and some other hits. I guess you would call them an R’n’B duo – but that “version” of R’n’B (in fact that use of the label) has always bugged me.
I didn’t ever expect that the K-Ci & JoJo gig would actually happen. The duo was booked for the St James Theatre on a Wednesday night.
But there were some people there. Probably we should have car-pooled – but the ground floor of the theatre was over half-full. Dismal really. But then, in 2008 one of the brothers (K-Ci was born Cedric Hailey and his younger sibling JoJo has the given name of Joel) fell over on stage. This apparently was the trigger for rehab, clean living and of course what self-respecting artist wouldn’t jump to the 13th step of the 12-step program and ensure the “journey” was made available as a reality TV show? Well, that’s exactly what K-Ci & JoJo did; they lived out the going-straight, getting-sober ordeal.
So it was (apparently) a clean and rebuilt duo that kept its audience waiting until after 10.00pm on a Wednesday night in Wellington (doors opened at 7.00pm).
The pair were suited and booted with K-Ci stripping to show off what was left of his six-pack and JoJo keeping everything (including his singing voice) buttoned up.
Seriously, this pair was an embarrassment. A joke.
The “performance” lasted for 47 minutes. And included an a capella version of Stevie Wonder’s Lately (covered by the brothers when in Jodeci). The version performed at this gig seemed to exist so that they could move through every key except the one the song was actually meant to be performed in. It was horrific. It felt like one of the laughable American Idol performances from the early audition stages; you know, from when you’re still watching the show (but pretending not to) just so you can laugh at the losers with delusions of grandeur? Yeah, that bad.
This was just a couple of songs in to the show.
Most of the time these singers were not singing – there was no DJ, just a backing track, which skipped during the intro. A local hype-man had announced them by saying “these dudes are one of the greatest R’n’B groups of all time” and then the music skipped and popped and was abruptly stopped. You could imagine a quick wipe of the CD against a t-shirt backstage. And then back on quick-smart for the brothers to walk out proudly, arms aloft, to a few dozen people.
A bouncer stood to the side of the stage and collected sunglasses from K-Ci and JoJo, he also took K-Ci for a lap through the crowd; the singer sitting on the man-mountain’s shoulders.
Later the bouncer would return to offer sunglasses back to one of the brothers. And to instruct (and select) “some ladies” to bump and grind on stage with the brothers.
They struggled through a few slivers of Jodeci songs – just as the Stevie Wonder song was barely recognisable for its truncated run-through, so too were the other songs from the duo’s 20 year career.
JoJo just could not sing. His voice was gone. And he would tap at the cordless microphone – expecting something to happen; as if to question whether the microphone was on. Oh it was on alright, because we could hear him inanely screeching “yeeaah!” over top of the recorded version of his voice that was meant to be the backing-tape but was essentially the lead item for the evening.
How pathetic is that? How can you hold your head high when you are standing there warbling a thin, poked, barely tuneful version of a song that used to be something of a hit and the audience is actually responding to the memory of the song which they are piecing together in their own mind by using the backing-track as the reference point? It was comical, surreal, baffling. It was completely and utterly unsurprising. I was surprised that there was actually an audience. And – well, in as much as it can be described as this: a performance. I just did not think it would happen.
JoJo couldn’t control the microphone, it was whistling away like a kettle as he shifted it in his hands, examining it, wondering why he was plagued by technical difficulties. The technical difficulties were in fact the inability to sing and having to remember the words and melodies.
Ladies and gentlemen, good readers, you know that I cannot sing. I know that I cannot sing. I really cannot sing. I’ve never hidden this, I’ve never really tried to be anything of a singer – but I am convinced that I could do a better K-Ci & JoJo set than the one offered by K-Ci & JoJo. And I could do this despite being unfamiliar with the material. From what I witnessed on this Wednesday night that issue doesn’t automatically rule you out from still fronting up and taking the money.
Several times we (the audience) were asked if it was real. “Is it real? Is it real?” Yes, yes, I know that it was a reference to a song (sad that I know that) but it was an interesting question. One with so many answers. This was in fact really pretty close to unreal (in at least two variants of that word’s definition). This was in fact about as far from real as could be I thought. But it was really happening – whatever it actually (really) was. Yes, it was (a) happening.
JoJo sounded like Amy Winehouse did in those horrible clips of her captured singing live when she was so drunk she had no idea how bad it was sounding. She had lost the ability to perform – and worse than that she had lost the ability to recognise that she had lost the ability to perform. He really was that bad.
He was so bad that Meat Loaf’s final shows sounded like Pavarotti in his prime in comparison to JoJo.
And then – just after the run of asking if it was in fact real (“is it real?”) K-Ci started asking the audience if we would be attending the after-party. I thought that a bit rich. They had barely started the actual party. Shouldn’t there be a party before there can be an after-party? And if this was the pre-party it was some purgatory, some resting point for the soul of lame R’n’B to circle in on itself before a sound-tech cuts the microphone forever, like a spade across the head of an injured bird.
That’s what needed to happen to this pair on stage. They needed to be put out of their misery.
But 42 minutes in to a set that never really started – the brothers announced that the party had to end. Presumably so that the after-party they had started to hype could begin. The stage went black and then they attempted All My Life. Mostly the pair were just yelling “yeeaah” over the top of pre-recorded versions of themselves. And when JoJo tried anything more his voice disappeared almost before it emerged, the microphone about as useful as a paper-cup with a piece of wool dangling from it.
And that was that. The worst concert I have ever seen. Probably the worst performance I could ever see.
How can people do this to themselves and then (attempt) to carry on? I couldn’t work out if K-Ci & JoJo were oblivious – or whether they knew that they were milking it; that they were uncomfortably close to being called out for some version of artistic fraud.
I mean imagine if I showed up here and tried to call this: asahgasdghe ashfasghaghg asfhaughg;g asha;ghahgawaghshbag ashasghag a sentence. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do that to myself – let alone to you. But that is exactly what K-Ci & JoJo did on that Wednesday night in Wellington. This pair that had a huge hit at one point in their career – a mega-hit, even if it was only for a brief moment (in the scheme of things) and now they could barely perform; what they consider a performance was basically drunken busking. And I realise that’s incredibly insulting to drunken buskers.
But I’m not sure that K-Ci & JoJo are aware – at all. They not only turned up and posed and croaked out the singing version of me typing: asahgasdghe ashfasghaghg asfhaughg;g asha;ghahgawaghshbag ashasghag. They did it with passion. They did it with whatever was left of their $2 Shop soul.
It was woeful. It was – as a result – very nearly wonderful. It was bizarre. Ludicrous. Incredible. Obviously I would not have paid to see this performance – but if I had then I would certainly be asking for my money back.
Nostalgia is one thing – but it needs to be credible. It should come from the heart. Even if it is just for the filthy lucre there must at least be some competency.
This was extraordinarily bad. This wasn’t Nickelback or Six60. This was David Hasselhof chasing a burger around a bathroom floor. This was Jerry Springer interviewing people who sleep with family members and yell through the gaps in their teeth that it’s “the best kind of love”. This was Kim Kardashian’s marriage. This was Garth George writing a column about political values. It was a credibility barrel being scraped with the last shreds of dignity.
This was a Wednesday night in Wellington. And I could have gone to Guitar Wolf. Or Lawrence Arabia. Or sat watching Dragon’s Den at home. I could have been watching my son of nearly six weeks as he slept or kicked on the mat.
But instead I was at K-Ci & JoJo. And though I guess I have a story – a new low-point in what passes as professional performance – I wonder how much further we can allow musical performances to sink. If any fan of that show felt satiated in any sense then the real crime is not the one performed by K-Ci or JoJo. We’re fighting something far bigger than lack of talent – we’re fighting nostalgia’s need to get a fix no matter how slim the pickings.
I’ve thought about this gig a lot – I couldn’t ever tell you it was the best gig ever but it was very much a case of So Bad It Was (almost) Good. It was comical. And I had something to say about it; I had something to write. As you’ve just read. People forget – I think (at least, when it suits) – that you don’t often get to pick what you turn up to review. You do it as a critic, not as a fan. Sometimes you’re a fan too – you like the band already. That’s a bonus I guess.
But I’ve thought about the K-Ci and JoJo show a lot over the last two year – more than any other bad gig. That means, in a strange kind of way, it was one of the best – not for the musical quality, but for the experience. A memorable experience. I mean I’ve been to great gigs that I can barely remember. But this…this is something I won’t forget. This isn’t quite the best gig ever – it is of course, in truth, far closer to the worst. But I thought I’d use this to set up the new series that will kick off 2014 here at Phantom’s Facebook page with It Was The Worst – a new round of stories about terrible musical experiences.