Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion rocks NYC despite audio hiccups
Written by B87FM on October 3, 2023
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Tony! Toni! Toné! has done it again!
It’s been over 26 years since the group’s breakup, yet they showed no signs of rust, awkwardness or disconnect. The family trio of Raphael Saadiq, brother Dwayne Wiggins and cousin Timothy Christian Riley sauntered into Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Saturday, only a week into their reunion roadshow, “Raphael Saadiq Revisits Tony! Toni! Toné! Just Me and You Tour.” Even with a long layoff, it’s clear that the chemistry between the three Ts is as strong as it’s ever been.
Part of that strength has to do with their stellar touring band. The two-person brass section — Keyon Harrold on trumpet and Kenneth Whalum on saxophone — has played in tandem with the likes of D’Angelo, Maxwell and Gary Clarke Jr. Their drummer, Daru Jones, has played with the best of them, including producer Pete Rock’s live group, The Soul Brothers. Lead guitarist Isaiah Sharkey sounds like the second coming of Saadiq’s late guitar protege, Spanky Alford, whose Southern strumming can be heard on the group’s last album and work with D’Angelo and Questlove.
The group’s devotion to their Bay Area roots seeped throughout all four of their albums, and that same love and admiration carried into 2023. The show started with a video montage of prominent figures with roots in Oakland, from Sly Stone and Larry Graham to Oscar Grant and Bruce Lee.
The band kicked things off with “The Tonyies (In the Wrong Key).” With the song’s refrain of “T-O-N-Y-T-O-N-I-T-O-N-SLASH-E,” it couldn’t be a more perfect introduction if it tried. Saadiq, Wiggins and Riley walked on stage one after the other to thunderous applause from the New York crowd. They wasted little time giving the people what they’d been waiting on for nearly three decades.
Following the intro, the all-too-familiar string motif at the top of “It Never Rains (In Southern California)” caused an insane commotion in Radio City Music Hall. It was challenging to hear Saadiq singing the first bridge due to the overwhelming choir in the audience. At last, Tony! Toni! Toné! was back!
For over two hours, the trio pulled no punches. Unlike many legacy acts from the 1980s and before, they didn’t opt to sing their string of songs in so-called medley form, racing through songs by singing just the first verse and the chorus, then moving on to the next song — wash, rinse and repeat. The Tonys played each song in its entirety, even extending a few for good measure.
Another unlikely occurrence is the sustained strength of Saadiq’s voice. With so many bands, contemporary or seasoned, needing to drop a song’s key to accommodate a vocalist, Saadiq didn’t have that issue. He sang every song in its original key as heard on the albums, with, for the most part, the same amount of power the crowd is accustomed to hearing.
The first song to get that little something extra was the group’s first hit, “Little Walter.” They began it with a slow rendition of the African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water,” the melodic interpolation of the “Little Walter” chorus. Once they initiated the song, they delivered on the funk. Wiggins’ rhythm guitar was as potent and distinct as ever, while Riley’s keyboard and synths laid the band’s firm foundation.
Funk ruled the night as the Tonys rewarded their devoted fans with a setlist bursting with treasured LP cuts. Songs like “Ex-Girlfriend,” “Baby Doll” and “I Can’t Keep It To Myself” excited the fans. Their rendition of “Lovin’ You,” a standout from their “House of Music” LP, proved particularly emotional for those in attendance, as Saadiq sang with earnestness and conviction. At the same time, Whalum played the sax solo nearly note-for-note from the album version.
Sadly, early microphone issues threatened to taint what was going to be a triumphant evening. During “Baby Doll,” it became clear that Wiggins’ microphone didn’t work, as his verse couldn’t be heard in the crowd. He briefly walked to the side of the stage to address it to the audio technicians, but the issue persisted.
Even after switching microphones a few songs later, the problem came to a head during one of the most pivotal moments in the show. Saadiq left the stage to give Wiggins the spotlight, singing a string of songs that feature him as the sole lead vocalist. The first, “Whatever You Want,” is among the most beloved of the Tonys catalog. Unfortunately, the techs didn’t fix the microphone issue until the song was nearly finished.
Fortunately, the audience sang Wiggins’ part back to him until the technicians rectified the audio issue, and Wiggins handled the snafu with uncanny patience and professionalism. Although the crowd was robbed of a Tonys classic, the mood rebounded when Wiggins sang another gem, “Slow Wine,” and ended his segment with “Til Last Summer.”
From there, the trio restored the explosive temperature with back-to-back performances of “Thinking of You” and “(Lay Your Head on My) Pillow.” The musicianship during these particular tracks shined quite brightly.
After a 10-minute intermission, the band returned two of the three Tonys. Wiggins remained backstage while Riley held down Saadiq for a string of his solo hits. Although the tour title is “Raphael Saadiq Revisits Tony! Toni! Tone!,” it was a welcome surprise that he performed so many of the songs he recorded post-breakup.
The second half started with “Get Involved,” a track still in the sonic vein of the Tonys’ past songs. Things took a shocking turn when he performed “Still Ray,” a classic from his solo debut, “Instant Vintage.” He stayed in the frame of mind with the album’s lead single, “Be Here,” performing a hilariously spot-on impression of duet partner D’Angelo’s vocal on the second verse.
The highlight of Saadiq’s mini-solo set came when background vocalist Latoya London came up to sing with him. The former standout from Season Three of “American Idol” co-led Saadiq’s Lucy Pearl classic “Dance Tonight” and “Instant Vintage” closer, “Skyy, Can You Feel Me.” On the latter, Saadiq strapped on his bass guitar, a tell-tale sign that he would perform “Skyy,” a live show fan favorite.
When Wiggins returned to the stage, the Tonys finished the night strong with three of their biggest songs, “Anniversary,” “Let’s Get Down” and “It Feels Good.” For “Anniversary,” the ensemble flipped the arrangement so that the ethereal outro of the album version began the concert version before Saadiq sang the first verse. They stretched out “Let’s Get Down” to test its funky elasticity, while “It Feels Good” was the logical closer, providing nostalgia and exuberance.
Although the Tonys came back for an encore, ending the night appropriately with “Leavin’,” the crowd was more than satisfied with what they came to experience. Tony! Toni! Toné! is back, and hopefully, back for good. With Saadiq stating that the group will record a new album when the tour concludes, it is clear that the Tonys have not only not missed a beat: They have found another gear.
- The Tonyies (In the Wrong Key)
- It Never Rains (In Southern California)
- Baby Doll
- For the Love of You
- Little Walter
- If I Had No Loot
- Annie May
- I Can’t Keep It To Myself
- Whatever You Want
- Slow Wine
- Til Last Summer
- Lovin’ You
- Thinking of You
- (Lay Your Head on My) Pillow
- Get Involved
- Still Ray
- Be Here
- Ask of You
- Dance Tonight
- Skyy Can You Feel Me
- Me and You
- Let’s Get Down
- It Feels Good
Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.
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