Despite the sweltering heat that scorched the region, thousands of Philadelphians made their way to the WDAS Summer Block Party at the Mann Music Center on Saturday evening to indulge in musical performances by hometown favorites Jill Scott, Boyz II Men, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Bilal. Alex Holley of Fox29’s Good Day Philadelphia and WDAS radio personality Frankie Darcell served as the night’s hosts, both appropriately and coincidentally dressed in flowing orange dresses.
As the Mann filled with audience members and anticipation, soul crooner Bilal took to the stage and treated guests to avante-garde arrangements of such soul classics as Cameo’s “Candy” and Yarbrough & People’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” along with a couple of his original songs, including “Soul Sista” and “Sometimes.” Bilal opted for a breezy look, appealing to functionality and fashion, with army-green harem pants paired with a loose-fitting red, black, and green striped tank top.
DJ Jazzy Jeff kept the show moving, stringing fan favorites, such as his own anthem “Summertime,” TLC’s “Creep,” and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.” Audience members were so engaged with Jazzy’s set that they didn’t seem to notice the numerous crew members who assumed the stage, setting up for the next act.
Fans’ screams preceded legendary R&B group Boyz II Men’s appearance on the minimally set stage. After nearly three decades in the music industry, the group proved its vitality through airtight harmonies and nimble dance moves. The audience sang in chorus as the group performed a medley of hits, including “I’ll Make Love to You,” “Water Runs Dry,” and “End of the Road,” which was sung a capella. The men wrapped their show by handing out single red roses to fans who crowded around the stage, nostalgic of ’90s R&B music videos.
The stage was then transformed into a sensual, dimly lit set, featuring Persian rugs and pillar candles. A large abstract painting and two baroque-style chandeliers served as backdrop, along with lights that alternated green, blue and red through each song. A barefooted Jill Scott emerged wearing loose fitting, sequined, gold-colored trousers with a flowing knotted top and turban. Scott greeted the audience with her signature 1,000-watt smile and, even more characteristically, clean, sultry voice.
“What we’re about to do tonight, will never be done again,” Scott told the audience between songs. Throughout her headlining set, Scott belted out songs such as “Slowly Surely,” “Cross My Mind,” and “Golden.” The evening reached a high point when Scott sang her 2001 hit “The Way,” pointing the mic toward an audience who sang a majority of the song. Scott’s performance carried messages of self-love and empathy for lost love.
The overall message of the evening was the power and importance of musicality, both live instrumentation and strong vocal abilities. Despite their longevity in the business — or perhaps because of it — each act proved they still could rock the house, paying homage to the art and tradition of soul music.