It was a chic bunch that swarmed Soul II Soul's D.C. debut Wednesday night. A felicitous turn, considering that the first 20 minutes of the set was taken up by a fashion show -- designs for fans of Soul II Soul. Not just a band, this "sound system" consisted of an aggregation of approximately 30 -- singers, dancers, musicians, plus a deejay -- all presided over by the head funkie dread, Jazzie B.
If Jazzie B. has anything to do with it, Soul II Soul is "the future," but because it is also a style and a mood, Constitution Hall's formal ambiance was superseded by Atmosphere: billowing smoke and flashing lights; loud, stomach-shaking bass; and dancers with stiff hair.
The band, which included a three-piece string section, fused disco and hip-hop sprinkled with reggae and Afro-pop flourishes. But despite all the extras, the show wavered in spots, especially when it spotlighted Jazzie's stable of alluring divas. Not surprisingly, Soul II Soul fared best when Jazzie B. was onstage, rapping and chanting or merely overseeing like some rakish Grand Pooh-Bah. From the elastic dancers to the romantic strings, the evening came wrapped in a feel-good message that would have been more palatable had it not been delivered with a pomposity that pop hasn't seen since arena rock's most bloated epoch.