I can’t think of a better way to end the work week than a Motown showcase featuring the Temptations and the Four Tops, and if last Friday’s sold-out concert at the Keswick Theatre is any indication, everyone else is in complete agreement.
Billed “The Temps and the Tops,” this popular evening of Motown melodies has served both groups quite well for a number of years.
“That’s been ongoing since 1983 - since ‘Motown 25,’” Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the last remaining original member of the Four Tops, said during an exclusive interview. “That was so successful, and people like competition, and they like comparing and all of that. So we put that show together, and we noticed right away that it had a great appeal to it. We put that show together in ‘83, and ever since then, at least 50 percent of both our dates every year is ‘Tops and Temps!’ People keep calling and we keep coming!”
I had the opportunity to meet Fakir, a 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, as he prepared to take the stage, and he explained how the good-natured rivalry between the Temps and the Tops still exists after more than 40 years.
“We have a lot of fun together, and it’s good for the audience, because it’s like they get two for one for the price,” he said. “What’s good about it is that you can’t go to sleep any night. You have to have your ‘A’ game every night. If not, you will be laughed at in the dressing room, talked about…we kid each other like that! It keeps us both inspired to do our best show every night. We go out and have dinner together afterward and laugh about it - after whoever went to sleep gets talked about a little bit! So we have a lot of fun with it.”
First up was the Temptations, currently comprised of Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, Bruce Williamson, Philadelphia native Ron Tyson and of course Otis Williams, the last remaining original member of the group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
Looking polished and professional in the Temps tradition, their lively set began with “Hello Young Lovers,” from the “In a Mellow Mood” album. I have to say that during the first few songs there was a problem with the sound system and their vocals were rather distorted, but the situation eventually righted itself.
The group performed with a strong rhythm section featuring Victor Carstarphen, who has strong ties to The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP), and a solid brass section added to the evening of Motown magic.
The Temps’ set included such timeless classics as “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “Can’t Get Next to You” as well as the break out hits “Glasshouse” and the Otis Williams composition, “Treat Her Like a Lady.”
Bruce Williamson, a rotund Romeo of sorts, emerged as the comedian of the group, and with a bit of encouragement from the audience to “Go Sesy! Go Sexy! Go!” he would put his best dance stops out on the floor.
Commenting on the only job that he has ever known, Otis Williams said, “I’ve been having fun for 53 years!” Their soul-satifying set ended with “My Girl” and “Losing You.”
After a brief intermission, the Four Tops took the stage, bringing a mellow vibe and a somewhat different approach to the Motown Sound.
With the passing of original members Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Lawrence Payton and Levi Stubbs, their dynamic lead vocalist, the Tops now consists of Fakir, Lawrence Payton, Jr., Ronnie McNeir and lead vocalist Harold “Spike” Bonhart
“He’s a great lead singer!” said Fakir, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his fallen brothers in 1990. “He sounds probably as close to Levi as you can get, without it being Levi, so this present group of the Four Tops is as close to original Four Tops in sound, in action, in movement and in presentation as the original Tops. So I’m very pleased with it, the audience is extremely pleased, and I think that’s why we keep getting calls.”
I personally found Bonhart’s voice, while very similar in range to Stubbs’, did not have the weight or passion that was the hallmark of the Tops’ inimitable hits.
Their smooth set began with the Holland-Dozier-Holland hits “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’” and “Bernadette,” which got folks up on their feet, and pretty much kept them there of the rest of the show. With an energy that was contagious, the Tops delivered “Same Old Song” (my personal favorite), “Shake Me, Wake Me,” “That’s the Way Nature Planned It,” “There’s Something About You,” “Still Water (Love),” “Keeper of the Castle,” “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” and “When She Was My Girl.”
A particuarly poignant portion of the show came when Lawrence Payton, Jr. stood centerstage to sing “Dance with My Father,” followed by a rare solo from Fakir, who delivered an emotional rendition of “My Way.”
While the Motown Sound was initially introduced as “The Sound of Young America” so many years ago, those teens, who are now age 50 and beyond, clearly are still captivated. In parting, Fakir had a heartfelt message for them.
“Thank you!” he said. “Thank you for all that they did for the Tops! Obie, Levi, Lawerence…these guys have passed and didn’t get a chance, so I’ll say this for all of them. Thank you for coming, thank you for buying records, thank you for loving the music! Thank you for allowing us to entertain you. It’s been our joy!”
Contact Entertainment Reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or at email@example.com.