Mint Condition
The Ritz, Raleigh
Friday, October 9, 2015

It still surprises me when concertgoers don’t understand encores. Friday night’s nearly sold-out Mint Condition concert inside The Ritz in Raleigh spotlighted a few of those folks. One such woman stood next to me for the entire night as she swayed and sang along to the sextet’s beloved ballads.

But when the stage faded to black and the band walked off stage after putting the finishing touches on “What Kind of Man Would I Be?,” she stormed off, too, bemoaning the fact that the guys had ended the show without performing possibly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).” Before she got too far out of sight, though, I assured her they’d definitely be returning to stage to perform her jam.

Not only could they not leave the room without hitting on that signature tune, but frontman Stokley Williams’ energetic dance moves, multi-instrument playing and improvisational scatting suggested that, even at age 48, he could have performed well into the morning without so much as a patch of sweat forming on his Superman T-shirt. When contemporary R&B stars like Usher, Trey Songz and Chris Brown hit the “old school” circuit in two decades, I doubt they’ll be able to match the pep of Williams’ current soul bounce. Even when Mint Condition settled into its slow grooves, he shuffled, jerked, popped, locked and erupted into every dance move short of the Dougie.

The same can’t be said of most of R&B bandleaders of the ’90s. Either age has slowed them down, or they were never as versatile (and in shape) as Williams to begin with. Let’s use the top tier of Complex’s “The ’90s Male R&B Group Pyramid of Excellence” as a guide: Boyz II Men’s conservative act doesn’t allow for too much wildness. And here’s footage of Jodeci’s co-frontman JoJo passing out mid-concert. Still, it’s surprising that a band responsible for making some of the most sentimental R&B songs this side of Tony Terry’s “When I’m With You” has a lead singer who can outdance his contemporaries.

Indeed, ’90s R&B era would have been tragically indelicate without the crusading testimonials of Mint Condition. They brought many of those songs—“U Send Me Swingin’” “So Fine.” “Someone To Love,” “Forever In Your Eyes,” You Don’t Have To Hurt No More,” “What Kinda Man” and “Nothing Left To Say”—to the stage Friday night. Collectively, they represent a quarter-decade demonstration on how to love, just in case you weren’t able to serenade your way into someone’s heart like Williams could.

Sometimes, all we want from some of favorite throwback act is for them to be our live jukeboxes—play all of the hits, just like we remember them. That’s what vintage R&B groups mostly do live. But Mint Condition proved, instead, it is a group of musicians. When Mint Condition returned to the stage for their encore, the instantly recognizable drum and synth parts of “Breakin My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” began. My fellow concertgoer went berserk.

But they didn’t play her song the way she likely remembered it. Instead, they remixed it, speeding up the beat by doubling up on the drums. Williams’ vocals remained the same, at least, but the song took on a funkier identity. Maybe she and much of the crowd didn’t like the alteration, but bands, however aged, should evolve. I was surprised to find Mind Condition doing exactly that, even at this late date.