TLC comes home, Nelly surprises with Atlant

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From about 1992 through 2015, the triumvirate of TLC, Nelly and Flo Rida racked up nearly 30 hits.

Their songs are the soundtracks to high school dances and late-night college dorm parties for a crossover generation who are now mostly mid-30 and mid-40-year-olds.

On an unseasonably tolerable weather night at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on Wednesday, about 10,000 of those dedicated fans were rewarded by the three acts for four hours with an endless procession of familiar songs.

»»PHOTOS: See our complete gallery from the TLC, Nelly and Flo Rida show

It was only the second show of a tour that will run through the end of August, and, aside from some muddy vocal mixing during TLC’s set, the evening rolled along on time and with a stack of surprise guests from Nelly.

In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, TLC luminary Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas explained that she and partner Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins will alternate the closing spot with Nelly. 

Considering Atlanta is the breeding ground for TLC, it made sense that they received top billing at this concert. However, as Chilli also noted in the interview, she prefers the second slot because she feels the audience’s energy level is at peak capacity.

She isn’t wrong.

While TLC presented a taut performance that kicked off at 9:45 p.m. with a feverishly rocking “What About Your Friends,” complete with a three-piece band, trio of brass players and four fierce dancers, many in the crowd stayed seated.

Thomas, with her enviably toned physique, hung in lockstep with the dancers for “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” while Watkins, effortlessly cool as always, tried to be heard over the band with her distinctive voice during a slinky rendition of 1995’s “Diggin’ on You.”

“We are at the crib!” Thomas proclaimed early in their 75-minute set, then admitted she was “a little extra nervous” before the show because, “I want to kill it for you.”

She and Watkins sounded particularly strong on a lovely read of “Unpretty,” which was accompanied by a gentle, finger-snapping beat, green lasers and dancers wearing multicolored capes that lit up like butterfly wings. Even 20 years after its release, the song, which Watkins said she started writing as a poem in high school, resonates deeply.  

Deceased member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’ raps were handled via her recordings and Thomas was sure to mention their fallen “sister” in a note of appreciation to TLC’s fans.

“We’ve been through a whole lot,” she said. “We never ever forgot (Lisa) or why we’re here – and that’s because of you guys.”

TLC paired their minor R&B hit, “Silly Ho,” from 1999’s “FanMail” album (yep, this is its 20th anniversary) with their early “Baby-Baby-Baby,” proving that while the level of sophistication of their sound evolved over the years, their unique blend of street-sexy – like chiffon being dragged over a bed of nails – never wavered.

The languid groove of “Red Light Special” found Thomas shimmying across the stage and their massive hits – “No Scrubs” and “Waterfalls” made later appearances in the set list, appeasing concertgoers who stayed loyal to the end.

It’s understandable that the crowd’s energy might have slumped a bit for TLC because Nelly presented an exhaust-a-thon of rapid-fire raps and a parade of some of Atlanta’s most recognizable names.

Backed by a DJ enshrined in a pyramid of lights and some of his St. Lunatics crew, the nimble rapper blazed through “E.I.” and “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” inciting much dancing in the crowd and twerking onstage from his female dancers. 

Nelly invoked the third person to thank the audience for supporting him “the past 18, 19 years” and bestowed them with an extended mix of “Country Grammar,” its insinuating beat quite refreshing to hear now that it isn’t pounded into your eardrums every 48 seconds, as it was in 2000.

Following a fluid “Ride Wit Me,” Nelly launched the guest procession with the introduction of Big Boi, who joined him and the crew for “Kryptonite.”

He returned to the spotlight solo for “My Place” – a slow jam by Nelly standards – and “The Fix,” which could have been fixed with a bit less teeth-rattling bass. 

Then came Jermaine Dupri, whom Nelly praised as someone who believed in him before he ever landed a record deal. The pair performed “Grillz,” the No. 1 hit Dupri produced for the St. Louis rapper in 2005. 

Nelly’s cousin, J-Kwon, joined the party to share his one hit, 2004’s “Tipsy,” which sparked a new round of singalongs from the crowd, and then the man Nelly introduced as “the king,” T.I., stepped out, Atlanta Braves baseball cap tilted on his head, to smile and rap through “What You Know” and a snippet of “Whatever You Like.”

With the guests returned to backstage, Nelly burst into the obvious set closer, “Hot in Herre,” which has endured surprisingly well. 

But instead of ending on a vivacious note, Nelly opted to edge out quietly, with “Dilemma” and “Just a Dream” wrapping his engaging 75-minute appearance. 

Kicking off the nostalgia-fest at 7 p.m. sharp was the always-animated Flo Rida. With his four female dancers in Creamsicle-colored leotards to match his sneakers and shirt, Flo Rida bounced through “Good Feeling,” imploring the crowd to, “Put your hands up, put your, put your hands up!” 

Flo had the unenviable task of energizing a venue that was about 20 percent full, but he sweated and charmed and rapped along to recorded tracks – and succeeded.

Live bass anchored “Right Round” – a four-piece band and DJ augmented his songs – which prompted fans to their feet, where they excitedly stayed when the hulking rapper brought the fiesta to the lawn (on the shoulders of his bodyguard) to perform “Club Can’t Handle Me.”

Always a people person, Flo ditched his sunglasses for “Low” and invited a group of women on stage to dance with him (of course, clutching their precious phones to film themselves the entire time).

There was a cameo from Atlanta rapper Gorilla Zoe, champagne sprayed into the front rows and water shot from giant water guns and singalongs to frivolous party songs “Whistle” and “Wild One. There was also a detour into new material, the surprisingly tuneless “Snack,” which features much rapping but is devoid of a chorus – usually a Flo Rida hallmark.  

By the end of his 50-minute set, Flo Rida was drenched in sweat and the fans, now filtering in at a steady clip, were appropriately primed for the night.

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