Wall of Sound review of VH1's Men Strike Back
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Date: Apr 16, 2000
Men Strike Back With a Vengeance
NEW YORK Enough divas already. It's time for the boys to strut their stuff.
April 14, 2000
That's how Wayne Isaak, executive vice president of talent relations at VH1, felt when it was time to craft this year's popular Divas concert. With the estrogen well running dry, his thoughts immediately turned to a tongue-in-cheek retaliation, which eventually morphed into Men Strike Back, a cross-genre and -generational attraction, starring Sting, the Backstreet Boys, D'Angelo, Tom Jones, Enrique Iglesias, Sisqo, and party-crasher Christina Aguilera.
"I thought it would be fun to give equal time to the men. It was designed in total fun. All these men have sex appeal and huge songs," Isaak said.
Indeed, at Tuesday's Men taping at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, this testosterone-fueled bill provided more slam-bang entertainment than the painfully weak Divas 2000: A Tribute to Diana Ross, which was taped and aired earlier this week. The thrill of these concerts is to witness novelty pairings, artists singing each other's songs and breaking loose on time-honored classics.
The closest this year's Divas came was a messy, two-song Supremes medley with Ross and Mariah Carey.
But these boys, they knew how to work a crowd.
The two-hour show, which airs Tuesday at 9 and 11 p.m., was taped out of sequence, and, unlike the four-and-a-half-hour migraine that was the Divas taping, the guys seamlessly wrapped their soirée in little longer than real time.
Only Sting, who forgot a line to his own song on the star finale "Every Breath You Take," and presenters Kevin Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick separately halted camera-rolling.
But the crowd of 3,000 gleefully watched the closing again, so electrifying was this night, so special those moments on stage. Sting, in typical raspy tone, offered an acoustic "Roxanne," with help from pal Branford Marsalis on tenor sax, and then segued into a full-band version of "Don't Stand So Close to Me."
When the five Backstreet Boys strolled from the wings to join Sting on the chorus, the yipping of fans could probably be heard on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel. Handshakes and back slaps abounded, and the Boys between this appearance and singing with Elton John at the Grammys further established their pop credibility.
The Boys also commandeered most of the stage time for the show, taking the spotlight for "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" and their fabulous new single, "I'll Be," which sounds like a lost Jon Secada tune. The slinky Iglesias brought out the pyro for his hits "Bailamos" and "Be With You," before perennial ladies man Jones, 59, jogged out to join him on a hip-swiveling cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire." Next came the currently fiery D'Angelo, clad in black leather and a black bandanna. The modern-day Marvin Gaye kept the crowd swaying with a funky, Prince-ified version of his "Left & Right," demonstrating moves out of character with his sultry R&B crooner persona. Even Jones appeared impressed when he returned to join D'Angelo for James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," matching his footwork and libido. Jones, for his part, sounded fabulously cheesy on his "It's Not Unusual" but would have been smart to skip his noisy recast of Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way." Too bad someone didn't toss a pair of undies on stage.
Sisqo's unbearably stupid "Thong Song" briefly killed momentum, his appearance an obvious last-minute move to capitalize on the tune's current radio success. But Aguilera, who adopts more Mariah-isms every performance, unleashed her 19-year-old pipes with enough fury to silence anyone foolish enough to still toss her in the same category as Britney Spears. Nifty reads of "I Turn to You" and "What a Girl Wants" and a sultry cover of Etta James' "At Last" left nothing but positive impressions. But did she really need to take up three songs' worth of time?
Along with the onstage productions, video screens flanking the stage blared during set changes with pre-taped segments starring Saturday Night Live vets Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, Ana Gasteyer, and Darrell Hammond. The hilarious sendups of Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Elton John (eulogizing retired Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino with "Candle in the Wind") were the perfect cappers to a zinger of a night. Lisa Taylor
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