We’ve all seen them, over and over again, neither cover band, nor the real thing, not karaoke, not the stars, soul, doo wop and harmony band from fifty years ago are just there. The Stylistics, the O’Jays, the Meters, they come to BB King’s, or play rock and roll revivals at Meadowlands, Valentines Day gigs at the Beacon. Watching the Drifters at BB King’s last year it seemed like one way to go back in time, watching the Temptations and the Four Tops at the matinee on Saturday, January 3rd, 2015, I have doubts. with most of the members, and all of the lead singers, up in heaven covering their ears, one harmony singer per group has survived, and with an additional seven stand ins between the two, the Motown superstar bands took the stage to try and nail down 59 hits between the two of them. What could go wrong? One went wrong, the other didn’t.
The two bands took the stage in a mock battle of the bands soon forgotten and traded lines from their songs but the sound was off and the schtick didn’t stick, the Temptations left the stage and original harmony singer Duke Fakir lead the Four Tops in a painful one hour set. There were too many things that just couldn’t happen when a band like the the Tops, a band defined by one man, the late baritone Levi Stubbs, keep going. In most harmony bands, you have one high, one low, two harmony, but the Four Tops were so completely defined by the beautiful voiced baritone Stubbs who died in 2008 that Fakir, and son of founding member Lawrence, Roquel Payton, couldn’t do too much about it. Imagine if John Lennon was lead singer of Freddie And the Dreamers, that’s the Four Tops problem in a nutshell. But still, the band have enough hits that if they held back on the tributes (according to Duke the four were very close, raised their kids together, and when afford a solo career Levi told the label “all or nothing”) and covers and played them long and strong, they’d have gotten away with it. Despite an OK “Bernadette” towards the beginning and a bracing epic end of “When She Was My Girl” , Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” (you probably know Jay Z’s heavy handed sample “Ain’t No N- Like The One I Got”), “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (surprisingly performed as part of a two song medley with) “Standing in the Shadows of Love ” and closing with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”, it was good enough. If they had performed long, powerful takes on these songs instead of abysmal covers of “What’s Going On”, “Dance with My Father” and, ahem, Duke’s”My Way” (“it took God’s grace to turn things our way”), it wouldn’t have been very good but it wouldn’t have been a trainwreck.
After the intermission, the Temptations saved the evening. The proof was a “My Girl” that didn’t have you heading for the exits. If ever there was a song that just can’t be heard any more, this is that but it didn’t because of lead singer Bruce Williamson. Bruce and falsetto Ron Tyson owned the show, indeed, Ron wasn’t quite good enough it was mostly Bruce and Bruce has a mighty yet protean voice and he gave “My Girl” everything he had, the song changing from singalong, to self-mythology on a dime. Nobody said he would be easy for Tyson to replace Kendrick, or, heaven knows, Bruce to replace David Ruffin (he took all of the late tenor leads) but all we ask is they do their best and they did their best and it was enough. Admittedly, the Temptations were never a one man band, “Treat Her Like A Lady” was a hit with none of the original lead singers, so they were in an easier position than the Four Tops. And original member Otis Williams respected the Temptations legacy more than the Four Tops did through playing smart, strong arrangement of their catalog, better, more important, with more pride, than tributing the Temptations late leaders is to make them viable even today. The dancing was precise Temptations moves, well choreographed, the band never lost its concentration, never lapsed. With a ton of hits to perform they performed them, not perfect, but good enough to not shame the name. Here is their setlist:
Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)
The Girl’s Alright With Me
I’ll Be in Trouble
The Way You Do the Things You Do
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Ball of Confusion
I Wish It Would Rain
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
Papa Was a Rolling Stone
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
I Can’t Get Next to You
For Your Love
Treat Her Like a Lady
(I Know) I’m Losing You
The Four Tops – C-
The Temptations – B+
he might feel forgotten but he isn’t
Let’s hope next year is better…
seemed to be on the other side of one hit wonder
the middle of a long career
they have a Monopoly, there is no other way to check out the charts.
Randy Edelman to Be Honored By LGBTQ Leading Publication Get Out Magazine For Composer Lifetime Achievement Award
his songs have been covered by some of the gayest icons
“Hey, can I photograph everyone at DFA?”.
merseybeat visiting John and Paul IRL
recognition and popularity over the years
the single greatest moment of the New Jersey native