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NEWARK, NJ – Last Saturday night legions of tri-state R&B fans flooded the Prudential Center to witness the reunion one of the most iconic girl groups of the 90’s, Xscape. The platinum selling quartet headlined the females only tour with support from Grammy award winner Monica and WeTv’s Braxton Family Values star Tamar Braxton. The arena quickly filled while opening acts Zonique and June’s Diary warmed up the stage with impressive mashups and dance routines, including a cover performance of Beyonce’s 2011 hit “Love on Top.”

Tamar Braxton

The first major act of the night was none other than the amazingly talented Tamar Braxton. Widely known as the youngest sister and former background singer of R&B legend Toni Braxton, Tamar has spent the last few years building her own brand as not only a gifted vocalist, but also as a talk show host, entreprenuer, and reality tv personality. Currently promoting her fifth and final studio album ‘Bluebird of Happiness,’ Tamar brazenly hit the stage donning a black Victorian-style leotard, sparkling thigh high boots, and her trademark blond mane. Braxton’s fans– affectionately referred to as ‘Tamartians’– rushed toward the stage with their phones in tow to capture moments of what has been said to be her best effort since the release of the critically acclaimed ‘Love and War’ album in 2013.

Kicking things off with high energy bangers like “Hot Sugar” and “The One,” Braxton lead us all into a twerk frenzy, especially during Notorious B.I.G’s opening verse of ‘Juicy’ which was mixed into the latter record. The stage lights began to dim as Tamar narrated the transition from love sprung pop to sombre soul using her own turbulent relationship experiences as context for the night’s storyline. It is in this transition that she delivers a flawless execution of gripping ballads “All The Way Home” and “Blind.” Upon confirming allegations of her pending divorce to husband and manager Vincent Herbert, she then offers a showstopping performance of “My Man” which brings the entire arena to its feet. In keeping tradition, Braxton then closes her set with a performance of the urban adult contemporary hit ‘Love and War’ with the participation of select audience members and internet sensation James Wright Chanel.

Monica

After a brief intermission, the crowd anxiously awaited the appearance of Miss Thang herself–the sultry songstress, Monica. Complete with a full band and background vocalists, “The Boy is Mine” singer arrived to the 2006 club anthem “Every Time the Beat Drops.” She then took audience members on a trip down memory lane with rhythmic performances of classic tunes “Like This and Like That,” “Before You Walk Out My Life,” “For You I Will” and a few others. One of the highlights of her set was a tribute to New Jersey native and 6x Grammy award winner Lauryn Hill. Monica sported a sequined fitted cap to deliver the rhymes to “Lost Ones” and then sent the crowd over with a rousing performance of “Killing Me Softly.” Her background singers wowed the crowd with a few soulful covers while she departed for a wardrobe change. Returning in form fitting blazer, she continued on with a string of hits including “Angel of Mine” and “So Gone” to the set’s end.

Xscape

The arena went quiet as a video montage introduced the night’s headlining act. The curtain rose to reveal Xscape’s four original bandmates powerhouse sisters LaTocha and Tamika Scott, along with singer-songwriters turned reality tv stars Tiny Harris and Kandi Burruss atop a raised platform in prisoneresque jumpsuits to “Feels So Good.” After wrapping up “Love on My Mind” and “Can’t Hang” the group literally gets snatched into a wardrobe change revealing daring bodysuits by Angel Brinks. The “Who Can I Run To” singers then decided to do a gospel segment in tribute to their early beginnings. While in heavenly white robes the quartet sang “Is My Living In Vain” followed by an a cappela version of “Give Me a Clean Heart,” which showcased the tightness of their vocal harmony after a 20-year hiatus.

The next segment of the show is full of unforgettable love ballads like “Softest Place on Earth,” “Tonight,” and “Say You Do.” Each member then had an opportunity to showcase their independent efforts, and while it was nice to see that they could hold their own, the audience was not as engaged for this part. They group reconnected at the end of Kandi’s performance of her solo debut single “Don’t Think I’m Not” and dived back in with “My Little Secret,” “Hard to Say Goodbye” and “The Arms of the One Who Love You.”

Closing out the show the group sang “Just Kickin’ It” followed by a moving performance of the 1993 chart-topping hit “Understanding.” Standing together in a seemingly warm embrace of unity was the final image of the group before they graciously thanked the crowd, plugged their docuseries “Still Kickin’ It,” and exited the stage to much ovation.

DOLL’S TAKE : 🌟🌟🌟🌟☆ (4/5)

This was a magical evening as I had the opportunity to witness rising talent live out their dreams on stage, while also jamming to the soundtrack of my childhood. June’s Diary, an all-female quintet formed at the direction of Kelly Rowland (founding member of Destiny’s Child), is certainly a group to keep your eye on. They have tight harmonies, clean routines, and great stage presence. Zonique, Tiny Harris’ daughter, also brought a youthful flare to what could have easily been a night solely for the grown and sexy. The stage was properly set for me to get my entire life from the next set of performers.

After seeing some of Tamar’s online performances and the obvious lip-syncing she’s done on live television shows, I was expecting her to give me the best drag show on earth. Her voice has not been so reliable in the past and with every thing she has going on in her personal life I honestly anticipated her performance to be lackluster. I’m so happy to report that Tamar Estine Braxton-Herbert sang her complete face off!She was also the only act of the night that used their music to paint a complete story. From beginning to end she was a showman, relatable, and her vocals were at their best.

Monica was definitely the most seasoned performer of the night. She has been known to take vocal risks, but she played it very safe and stayed in her pocket. I loved the fact that she dedicated “For You I Will” to her mother while the audience lit up the arena with their phones. While her outfit changes seemed very unnecessary, she gave us an outstanding concert experience without much visual assistance needed. She could have easily been the headlining act and no one would have had one complaint.

This is Xscape’s first time headlining a national tour and it comes after a 20-year break, so there was a high level of expectation that I’d hoped to see them reach and exceed. Their look was evolved and rique compared to their notable tomboy aesthetic. Everyone seemed to be having fun for the most part, but when it came down to crowd participation, they fell short behind prior acts. Sure we were singing along, but the energy on stage just seemed a bit forced. Kandi did not seem 100% committed to the choreography and there were noticeable eye passes at missed queues to other bandmates. During the solo segment Tiny’s personality and LaTocha’s vocal prowess shined, while Tamika offered a lip-sync performance of “Greatest Gift”–a song of which the audience was clearly unfamiliar with or had forgotten. There were far too many breaks which made the storyline seem very incohesive, but as fans we just wanted the music. Though it was great to see them performing some of the 90’s best R&B hits, it is clear that the group has once again reached it’s end as a high-functioning foursome.

Overall I give the entire experience an 4.0/5 on the strength of vocal performance and crowd participation.

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