Being a teenager in the 21st century isn’t all it’s cracked up to be with the likes of the X Factor spurting out the universal neurosis that is manufactured music. Music isn’t how it used to be, tonight was a celebration of America’s most important record label, a glorious time where Motown led the way. The Motown lovers from Birmingham were in for a treat tonight as the middle aged gathered in the humungous NIA to welcome The Crystals, Taveres, The Four Tops and The Temptations. The lady who knew all the moves in front of me is why the tickets warn you that people around may stand.
The Crystals started the show, the defining girl group from the 60’s (well one of the original members Dolores Dee Dee Kenniebrew) was here joined by two talented singers Patricia Pritchett-Lewis and Melissa Antoinette Grant. Everyone was excited to see The Crystals as they’re music is still very popular in the UK like all of Mo Town. The hits kept coming from a pitch perfect “Uptown” to “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” and a cover of The Supremes classic “Rescue Me.” The set could have been longer as each song was as good as the next but Dee Dee is nearing 70 so I suppose she can be left off. But like the rest of the nights entertainment there aint no stopping them now the classic Mo Town moves were there and the high notes! It’s a good job “Dee Dee” loves performing as The Crystals were special tonight and a great start to the show.
Next up were the Tavares brothers (all original members.) The memorable group from the 70s to 80s were back in action with their classic hits and lively stage show. Ralph and Tiny have left the band but Chubby, Pooch and Butch are all still performing. Timeless hits “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel” and “It Only Takes A Minute” were all very enjoyable and got the audience on their feet along with “More Than A Woman” dedicated to all the ladies in the house. The song that stook out was a perfect rendition of “Killing Me Softly” started by an accapella solo by Butch. The rotating round the microphone and the leg shaking was all there and very inviting to the fans. But it was the immaculate vocals and the way each group tonight owned the stage that got me, they must feel at home on stage and that is what a large percentage of our generation is missing.
After the interval a bigger horn section appeared along with a very impressive rythym section and music maestro. It was time for The Four Tops with the last original member Abdul “Duke” Fakir being accompanied by some top acts. No one cared that there was only one member left but even though he “never wanted to be a lead vocalist” Duke is really important to The Four Tops, not just because he is the only surviving member but tonight he proved it with an emotional solo performance of “Our Way.” Fakir and the members of the group tonight paid tribute to each past member with a song for each of them. The highlight of this was when Lawrence Payton’s son (who is currently a member of the band) sang a touching song for his dad alongside his brother, they sang the Luther Vandross hit “Dance With My Father Again.”
After that tribute the band got themselves together to perform their ageless “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.)” The NIA were on their feet and all the over 50’s in the building were travelling back to “the happy days”. For 44 years Fakir has been with “The Four Tops” and he was still coming out with The Jackson 5 moves and stealing the show, what an achievement for such a prolific group.
It was time for big finale, the small intermission gave the audience time to stretch their legs then another music maestro appeared and The Temptations came out to “After all these years we are still here” which is true but yet again only one of the original members, Otis “Big Daddy” Williams, was here in Birmingham tonight. The Temptations dedicated their set to Whitney Houston and started the show with Terry Weeks and his high pitched voice singing the masterpiece “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” with backing from Harry McGilberry’s bass replacement, Joe Hemden.
The Temptations were definatly the best dancers tonight and had the most striking stage show with the impressive lights and synchronized routines. It was Otis’s nephew Bruce Williamson that made the performance so enjoyable as he is a big charismatic character, he was prouncing around the stage with not a worry in the world and had the flawless vocals to match. Like Fakir Otis stepped out tonight to sing “I would do anything.” The age at which these performers are at makes their live performance so much more impressive, “all they wanna do is sing.” “Get Ready” was an energetic performance crammed with sexual innuendos and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” provided a sing along for the crowd. Finally it was time for The Temptations to sing their national anthem a song which everyone loves and was my highlight of the night, I wish they still made songs like “My Girl” but they don’t so a chance to see it performed live was amazing.
All four groups are special in their own way, unlike some modern musicians they don’t just make one hit, every song is catchy and loved by all. (The Temptations are on their 49th album, could you imagine 49 Justin Beiber albums!) The music performed tonight formed the American music industry today and the only thing I didn’t like about tonight was the curfew.
Words by John Kirby
Photos by Bianca Barrett