Saturday, May 11, 2013

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: 98 Degrees at Apple Soho

(left to right:) "Cubby", Drew, Justin, Nick & Jeff
Guys, I'm on a roll this week. This past Wednesday, I stopped down to the Apple Store in Soho to meet with one of my tweenage favorites -- the recently reunited 98 Degrees

The group was celebrating the release of their first album in thirteen years, 2.0, via a Q&A session with KTU DJ Paul "Cubby" Bryant (a former Z100 DJ who was among the first to believe in the group during their "Invisible Man" days) and a truncated "greatest hits" live showcase. The event was taped by Apple for their 'Meet The Musicians' series and will soon be available as an audio and video podcast for free on iTunes.

As I've stated before -- this was not my first live experience with Jeff, Nick, Justin & Drew. I saw them headline (yes, headline) a double bill with Britney Spears at the New York State Fair back in 1998. I'm proud to say seeing them in person now, nearly 15 years later (hello!) that all four guys seem just as humble and affable (and handsome -- my goodness!) as they did during their late 90's boy band heyday. 

If anything, they sound even more confident and comfortable now -- hence the choice of 2.0 as their latest album's title. Drew stated the album title came from Justin, who felt like this time around, the group on the whole is tighter and more confident in their sound and internal harmony. The new album is a statement that they are a newer, stronger 98 Degrees.

All four talked about what they did during their hiatus. Drew won 'Dancing With The Stars' and did Broadway, Justin ran for Mayor in his hometown of Cincinnati, Jeff hosted a Chippendales review in Las Vegas and Nick -- most famously, of course -- released two solo albums and married former MTV VJ Vanessa Minnillo (there was no talk of Jessica Simpson). Several jokes were made toward Jeff and Justin in particular but I'll leave those as a surprise for the podcast. Many references were made toward the fellas 98 being the "muscular" boy band of the late 90's, but Jeff jokingly stated he wasn't sure where those muscles went. ;)

Nick stated the group made a conscious decision to not do any songwriting for the 2.0, in the pure interest of having the best material possible in the shortest amount of time. Much of the album was placed in the hands of one of my favorite production teams, Soulshock & Karlin (who, it should be said, are no strangers to the 90's pop scene). Usual Dr. Luke collaborator Claude Kelly wrote two songs for the project (including projected second single "Girls Night Out"), and Bruno Mars co-wrote "Take The Long Way Home." After hearing the entire record, I have to say there are a lot of highlights -- so if "Microphone" threw you for a bit a loop (like it did for me initially), don't write off the rest of 2.0. There are a lot of goodies thrown in!

When Cubby brought up the popularity of their Christmas single "This Gift" at radio even to this day, he asked if another holiday tune was in store for the group. Nick stated that of the four full-length albums 98 Degrees released prior to their hiatus, 1999's This Christmas was the group's overall favorite and that they hope to do some kind of followup in the future.

(left to right:) Nick, Jeff, Drew & Justin
They mentioned their excitement regarding the upcoming Package Tour with New Kids On The Block and Boyz II Men, calling it a dream come true. In fact, how they got their first record deal with Motown Records stemmed from a spontaneous trip backstage at a Boyz II Men concert! When asked if a 98 Degrees only tour was in the cards after The Package Tour, Drew hinted that it is something they are working on hammering out the logistics of (so keep your fingers crossed!).

After the Q&A session, the group reconvened and returned to the stage alongside a single backup musician who supplied either guitar or soft piano as accompaniment. What followed was as intimate a live performance as you can get -- no drumkit or backing vocal, just sweet harmony. They began with their debut single, "Invisible Man", before Drew stated their performance would be a bit of a walk down memory lane going in chronological order of their hits. So inevitably, "Because of You," the lead single from sophomore 98 Degrees and Rising and arguably one of their best remembered hits, followed -- complete with a sing-along from the crowd present.

My personal favorite in "The Hardest Thing" was next, followed by the modern day wedding classic in "I Do (Cherish You)". Fan reaction was huge for "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)", the lead single from Revelation. Drew joked that finally the group had a single with a little bit of a tempo -- something they were hoping to replicate with 2.0. They closed the show with their current single, "Microphone".

Overall, the experience was a lot of fun and so rewarding to see a group you grew up with still on such fantastic terms with each other, sounding better with time! 2.0 is out now and available for purchase on iTunes.

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