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More 90s nostalgia at the Cross Center

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The R&B group Blackstreet performs at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday, May 13, 2017 as part of the "I Love the 90s" tour featuring 10 bands and artists from the music era. The R&B group Blackstreet performs at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday, May 13, 2017 as part of the "I Love the 90s" tour featuring 10 bands and artists from the music era. (Photo courtesy of Cross Insurance Center/Yasmeen Badich)

Hitting up “I Love the 90s - The Party Continues” 

BANGOR – Following the massive success of last fall’s visit from the “I Love the 90s” tour, the follow-up concert – “I Love the 90s - The Party Continues” recently landed at the Cross Insurance Center.

And I, of course, was right there to see it.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m not a big music guy. But I am a sucker for some good old-fashioned hard-hitting nostalgia. And since I had such an awesome time at the show last October, there was no way that I was going to miss another chance to experience that feeling again.

The crowd filing into the venue had that same buzz of excitement, that same blend of flannel and gold lamé worn with the same weirdly sincere irony. It was a whole new lineup, but one that nevertheless featured plenty of familiar names.

The evening kicked off with an appearance by Freedom Williams, who made his 90s mark as part of the early-decade dance music collective C + C Music Factory. Alas, the years haven’t been particularly kind to Mr. Williams – despite his best efforts, it was a choppy and generally underwhelming performance.

Biz Markie was in the house, doing more or less what you’d expect from Biz Markie (though he did offer up a brief and VERY weird tribute to Prince in the form of a few bars of “Kiss”). He basically gave the impression of not really being into it.

Sisqo, on the other hand, did it up. He and his pair of backup dancers powered through a surprisingly tight set; I had frankly forgotten about his output beyond “The Thong Song,” but he had a few really solid tunes. He can still put on a show.

So too can Kid N Play, the act that I was perhaps most jazzed to see. As someone who has seen all three “House Party” movies more times than I can count (and who also carries a deep and abiding affection for the “Prince and the Pauper” riff “Class Act”), I was psyched to a bordering-on-embarrassing degree. Happily, they delivered, giving me everything I wanted from seeing them, up to and including their iconic dance routine from the first “House Party.”

(Note: I also bumped into Kid – along with a few other folks from the tour – at a local restaurant afterward and they were all extremely gracious.)

Montell Jordan looks FANTASTIC. Still sounds great, too – he tore it up on “This Is How We Do It.”  

My rap mentor Coolio (for real – he was shockingly complimentary of my flow when he judged the finals of the Downtown Throwdown rap battle for the Downtown with Rich Kimball radio show a couple of years back) had a quality set from top to bottom, though the highlight was likely when the room practically exploded as he closed with “Gangster’s Paradise.”

Former Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath might have been the happiest of anyone to be on that stage. He cheerfully strolled through his hits; not only did he have more of them than I remembered, but I remembered more of the words than I ever would have imagined. There was a self-deprecating vibe to him that was impossible not to be charmed by.

I’ll admit to being a bit surprised that Blackstreet was the penultimate act – right up until the audience reaction to them. The room went absolutely bonkers the moment the quartet hit the stage. By the time they launched into their closer (“No Diggity,” as if it could possibly be anything else), they had the entire place eating out of their hands.

Hip-hop icons Naughty By Nature closed things out strong, bringing an aggressive energy that was palpable even as things occasionally got muddied; the presence of an invited crowd of audience members onstage didn’t help. However, they seemed to thrive on the chaos and closed things out strong.

It's odd to attend a show that is essentially a soundtrack to your memories, but it's no secret that the commodification of nostalgia has become big business. However, this didn't feel like a cash grab to me. I think what separated it was the sheer sense of gratitude – most of these folks seemed genuinely touched by the outpouring of affection and grateful for the opportunity to keep doing something that they so obviously love.

Yep. I still love the 90s. Not that there was ever any doubt.

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