In the past, MTV’s “Unplugged” series has usually focused on the talents of a single musical artist or group. This installment of the network’s acoustic series is the first time MTV has platformed a record label — in this case Uptown Records.
Event, taped earlier this year at Universal, showcased five of the Uptown family’s most popular artists: four-man harmonic group Jodeci; hip-hop queen Mary J. Blige; Father MC; throaty baritone Christopher Williams; and the “overweight lover” himself, Heavy D, with an able assist from his Boyz.
Pretty heavy stuff for a record company founded in 1986. Unfortunately, the special’s one-hour format required that the artists only perform snippets and medleys of their songs instead of giving full, concentrated performances.
Uptown’s music, whose roots reach back to R&B and gospel, is the kind of music that — at least on disc — makes you want to get up and dance. But in this incarnation, both the music and performances seemed restrained, as though the performers were warned to be on their best behavior.
Overall, the performances seemed somewhat artificial and sterile. The show only came to life at the end, when Heavy D’s enthusiasm got things pulsating. He enlivened the show with his inspired dancing and call-and-reponse technique on “Is It Good to You?” The in-studio audience finally seemed to shake off its slumber.
This isn’t to say the show is without highlights. There were several, including Heavy D’s smooth handling of “Blue Funk,” and movie-star handsome Christopher Williams’ strong performance of “Every Little Thing That U Do, “proving he can take his rightful place next to Teddy Pendergrass. Songstress Mary J. Blige strutted her best stuff, with a soulful performance of Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.”
At show’s conclusion, Uptown’s artists convened on stage to sing what can only be described as an anthem, “Next Stop Uptown,” during which each artist was given a turn at the mike.
Special mention goes to the band, Swing Mob, whose furnace-like blasts of horns a la Tower of Power deftly punctuated Father MC’s performance of “One Night Stand.” The sound throughout was richly textured, the set design intriguing yet simple.