Raphael Saadiq and Tony! Toni! Toné! kicked off their reunion tour enchanting fans with their bountiful catalog

By Angela Lindsay

September 24, 2023 (updated)

Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

Perhaps it was the nostalgia permeating throughout Ovens Auditorium on Friday night. Maybe it was the conversations ranking favorite songs at the concession stands. Or maybe it was no cell phone policy in effect. In any case, it was a memorable evening for fans who came to witness Tony! Toni! Toné! reunited for their first tour in 25 years. 

Raphael Saadiq and Tony! Toni! Toné! kicked off their reunion tour in Charlotte Friday at Ovens Auditorium. Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

The Oakland trio consisting of Raphael Saadiq, his brother D’Wayne Wiggins, and their cousin Timothy Christian Riley rose to prominence in the late ‘80s with their progressive New Jack/R&B sound and swagger. Eschewing the unabashed sexuality and aggressive masculinity of many R&B groups of their time, Tony! Toni! Toné! relied instead on thoughtful songwriting, and their instrumental acumen. 

Setting the mood for the evening, a DJ warmed up the audience with classic soul/R&B tunes from the likes of Tevin Campbell, Maxwell, Mint Condition, and Jodeci. By the time the blue curtain parted and the flickering house lights went down for good, the trio emerged with a large screen behind them showing news clips of a turbulent Oakland, California, particularly between the police and the public, along with a montage of artists and notable figures from their hometown. 

Timothy Christian Riley, Raphael Saadiq, and Dwayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné! performed songs spanning decades of their collective catalogs. Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

Split into four acts, Tony! Toni! Toné! performed songs early from their 1993 album, Sons of Soul, like “Tell Me Mama” and “What Goes Around Comes Around,” swiftly blending into a saxophone and keyboard interlude which prompted rhythmic claps into “I Couldn’t Keep It To Myself.” 

Moving on to their debut album Who? with “Baby Doll,” harmonizing into “For The Love Of You,” they paid tribute to psychedelic soul band, The Chambers Brothers’ rendition of the African American jubilee song, “Wade in the Water,” transitioning to their hit single, “Little Walter.” 

D’wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné! performing Friday night at Ovens Auditorium for the Just Me And You Tour. Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

While there were no dancers or fanciful production, Tony! Toni! Toné! used powerful imagery throughout their set like the ‘70s blaxploitation montage replete with footage on the big screen of movies like Shaft. Accompanied by impressive saxophone and guitar solos, Saadiq worked the tambourine while red lasers shot out from behind the stage. 

Saadiq left the stage and spotlight to Wiggins for ballads “Whatever You Want,” “Slow Wine,” and “Til Last Summer,” as the audience joined in on the choruses. With his shoulder length locks now pulled back into a high ponytail, Saadiq returned with “Wild Child” from 1996’s House of Music before seranading the crowd with yet another favorite from Sons of Soul, “(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow.”

Raphael Saadiq performed songs from his solo work and supergroup Lucy Pearl on Friday night for the Just Me And You Tour. Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

It was the third act that showcased Saadiq’s bountiful song catalog from “Still Ray” and the D’Angelo collab, “Be Here” off his debut solo album, Instant Vintage, to the sentimental “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack in 1995. Saadiq also broke out a trio of songs from the beloved, but short-lived supergroup Lucy Pearl (Dawn Robinson of En Vogue and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest): “You,” Dance Tonight,” and “Good Love.” Actor and singer Latoya London popped out to perform Robinson’s verse in “Dance Tonight.” With all band members back onstage, a touching tribute to the late filmmaker John Singleton preceded “Me And You” from the 1991 soundtrack Boyz n the Hood, Singleton’s directorial debut. 

Latoya London joined Raphael Saadiq for the Lucy Pearl song, “Dance Tonight.” Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

In a move that fooled no one, Tony! Toni! Toné! tried to leave the stage without performing two of their greatest hits– 1993’s “Anniversary” from Sons of Soul, which garnered the group a Grammy Award nomination in 1994, and “Feels Good” from The Revival.

Tony! Toni! Toné! reunited in Charlotte Friday night at Ovens Auditorium for the Just Me And You Tour. Photo: David “Odiwams” Wright

The show didn’t just reunite the prolific group, but it felt like a family reunion for fans as well. Tony! Toni! Toné! delivered a stadium-worthy performance while managing to retain the closeness of a church congregation. And much like on a Sunday morning, Tony! Toni! Toné! left the crowd longing for togetherness and soulfulness before being ushered back into the outside world. The band’s spellbinding combination of mystique and message has proven to be a potent potion still enchanting fans today.

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