When I was a teenage girl, Human Nature was my boy band of choice. Whenever they scheduled a shopping centre appearance or booked a TV show, let alone a concert, I’d take myself virtually anywhere in the state to be there. I was even known to cross state lines. However, before last Thursday I hadn’t seen a Human Nature show in at least seven years, as this blog informs me, and that was really to give my husband or fiancé, whatever he happened to be at the time, an insight into my teenage years. However, when a high school friend admitted she’d never actually seen Human Nature live, I couldn’t resist taking a trip down memory lane with her.
The Voice graduate Emma Pask was tasked with warming up the sell-out crowd at Sydney’s The Star. Her set of just four songs felt far too short. What a warm, talented performer she is. Her jazzy take on Adele’s “Rumour Has It” was so quirky and clever, and Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” was a brilliant closer. I was left wanting more, and so glad I’ll get just that when she plays the final Jazz in the Vines in a couple of months.
Seeing a band you were so devoted to is always going to be a nostalgic experience. However, an awful lot has changed since the last time I saw Human Nature. Back then they hadn’t long released their first Motown album. If memory serves they hadn’t made their big move to Las Vegas, so they were somewhere between honouring their boy band roots and playing with the covers that were beginning to generate such buzz.
Today Human Nature are best known as a covers band, for better or worse. Their show is a well-oiled machine, with light projections and back-up dancers making things feel very polished. With the release of a couple of Jukebox albums, they’ve built on the Motown material to create a repertoire of feel-good songs their adoring crowds eat up. Their voices are just as sublime as I remember them. They surround themselves with a tight bunch of musicians, but personally I think their talents shine brightest when the wall of sound is stripped away and their harmonies can stand alone.
The lads clearly love being back in Australia. They joked easily with the crowd and made references to home that would go over the heads of their usual Las Vegas audience. With an isolated Aussie show, rather than a string of dates, the banter felt more off-the-cuff and rehearsed than it often did back in the day.
Human Nature are born entertainers, all-singing, all-dancing, oh so charming. But I must admit, I was left wanting a little more than this very polished and pleasing performance. Several factors saw me drifting away Human Nature over the years, but their dependence on covers was one of them. I love cover songs and even some cover acts. David Campbell only sings covers these days, but he does it with such passion that you forget he didn’t write his songs. At times he brings tears to my eyes. I wish I’d been as moved during Human Nature’s set. However, the only covers that I felt in my gut were “Earth Angel” and “I’ll Be There,” songs they’ve sung since the 90s, when they were a bit more selective about which covers would make their sets.
Speaking of the 90s, the highlight of the set for me came when Human Nature brought back this decade with a trio of songs from their past. I must admit, I felt that familiar flutter of my heart when they burst out with “He Don’t Love You,” complete with the very same dance moves they performed all those years ago. The song actually formed a 90s medley which paid homage to boy band contemporaries: New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and N*Sync. I only had eyes for Human Nature during that decade, so I didn’t get quite as excited as some of the other thirtysomethings in the crowd, but I loved the nostalgia fest. “Wishes” and “Every Time You Cry” followed, reminding me of all the beautiful memories I’d made during that period of time.
I would have loved to hear more of those 90s tracks, but with so many seniors in the crowd keen to hear the songs of their youth, I can understand why the boy band period were revisited so briefly. Human Nature’s demographic has changed an awful lot over the years!
As I was mulling over the reasons why I wasn’t left gushing over this show, despite its quality, I was reminded of a letter I wrote to Who magazine many years ago defending Human Nature’s second album Counting Down. Incensed at the review which declared how fluffy the album was, I questioned why everything needed to have edge and grit. What was wrong, I asked, with music that simply makes you feel good? So now I ask myself the same thing. As people filed out of the Event Centre, they all had smiles on their faces. Throughout the show people were dancing and clapping and singing along. Young and old, male and female, everyone was having such a good time. And when you can make people happy, as Human Nature continues to do, maybe that’s enough.
Image source: own photos