The Four Tops + The Temptations + Tavares @ Arena Birmingham, 22nd November 2018

A pre December Winter chill’s hit the air but that’s not going to stop a couple thousand Brummies from plunging into The Arena, primed and ready to jive and high kick to the Monarchs of Motown. As a Millennial I’m used to swinging my arms around to 135 bpm in a nonchalant way so it was an exercise in catharticism to lose my extremely high inhibitions to Taveres, The Temptations and The Four Tops. Was it “Just My Imagination” or were thousands of soul lovers spinning and thinking the same thing.

With the tour being called “One More Time” and each band performing for 50+ years the crowd were taking no chances and there wasn’t a spare seat in sight. It was time to get transported to the 70s as Tavares hopped on stage to the hypno erotic “It Only Take’s A Minute.” Tonight consisted of Tiny, Butch, Ralph and Pooch. Singing the songs without their brother and former leader Chubby, the talented family weren’t fazed as Butch took the lead with a solo on “Don’t Take Away the Music.” Each brother took it in turns to take the limelight and harmonize in “Never had A Love Like This Before.” A short rendition of “Killing Me Softly” set us up nicely for the “Saturday Night Fever” climax. One of the vital aspects I’ve retained from tonight is that it’s nigh on impossible to put a step wrong when you’re dancing to a Motown 4-4 rhythm. This definitely showed in “More Than A Woman” and of course the game changer “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.” Chubby must’ve taught Butch a thing or two as the bottom tier erupted as the 70 year old transformed into Bobby Brown to end the performance.

“After all these years we are still here” “How many of you wanna go way back?” On came four saxophonists and a brass section shortly followed by the MC for the evening. Before you could say “My Girl” “Otis Big Daddy Williams” was in the building with the truly tenacious Temptations. With a quick mention of the new album “All The Time” and a further plug of the critically acclaimed Musical “Aint Too Proud” Terry Weeks could start the show with a quiet rendition of “Get Ready.” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” started with the xylophone pentatonic scale played on the electric keyboard and made way for Larry Braggs to showcase his impressive range. “The Way You Do The Things You Do” was a joy to listen to with the swinging bass line and infiltrating trumpet rhythms.

The time machine took us back to 1971 as Willie Green provided the deepest vocals ever for my personal highlight of the night “Ball Of Confusion.” A song just as relevant now as it was back then. “Eve Of Destruction” (well it is Black Friday tomorrow.) Adrian Williams “lead guitarist) lost himself to dance and jigged across the stage with guitar in hand. As a howling wind swept the stage the lights flickered and each member of the band took it in turns to “Rap on.” Otis Williams never wanted to be lead vocalist but on “Just My Imagination” he prompted a sing-along from the crowd. On the other side of the Atlantic it was Thanksgiving, but I’d rather be over here as we were treated to “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” “Treat Her Like A Lady” and the nation’s favourite “My Girl.” As Otis and the gang left the stage we wanted more, so fingers crossed The Temptation’s will live on forever.

It was time for the finale, a big horn section appeared playing “Reach Out I’ll Be There” to welcome 82 year old Abdul “The Duke” Fakir to the stage with his band of youthful wanderers. With 43 years together Fakir could be ambivalent about reuniting “The Four Tops” but thankfully he did and the new line up didn’t disappoint. “Four Of Us” was sung brilliantly, led by “Ronnie McNeir”, a spirited tribute to former lead singer “Levi Stubbs.” “Are you ready to party?” the gold suits lit up for “Loco In Acapulco” and so did the flicks and kicks. There were not any backdrops but there were plenty of glides and slides to the “Paul Collins” monster hit. Notably there were some chairs on stage as The Duke had “hurt his hip” but “not hurt his voice.” “Bernadette” epitomised all that was good about Motown with the driving funky bassline and lyrics like “when the only joy in life is too be loved” and received rapturous applause.

Bobby Darin’s “Mack The Knife” was one of the oldest songs of the night, with brilliant swinging piano and trumpet we were transported to the early part of the 60s. A real test for a group to sing, The Four Tops tonight absolutely passed with flying colours. “When She Was My Girl” and “Aint No Woman Like The One I Got” slowed the night down but only temporarily, as the suits lit up again for the Holland—Dozier—Holland classics “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “I Can’t Help Myself.” A fitting way to end the show.   It makes you wonder if there’s any rivalry between the groups performing tonight, as they all provided a master class in musicianship and dazzled the crowd with their very different endings to their acts. It would’ve been nice to see the three acts collaborate on a song. However we got our money’s worth, as more than half a century later “It’s the same old song but with a different meaning.”

Reviewer: John Kirby

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