Full disclosure: I never had the chance to see the original Temptations ... I was too young at the time and, quite honestly, as big as The Temps were nationally, their records didn't play all that well here in Chicago. (Example: "My Girl", one of their signature tunes and a #1 Hit EVERYWHERE, only got as high as #19 on The WLS Silver Dollar Survey.) In fact, despite the close proximity of Chicago and Detroit and a significant Black population here in Chicago, the first record to crack The Top Ten for Temptations on WLS didn't happen until 1968. That's the year "I Wish It Would Rain" peaked at #2. By then The Temps had already scored EIGHT Top Ten Pop Hits on the national charts ... and had taken SIX records all the way to #1 on Billboard's R&B Singles Chart.
That being said, I absolutely LOVE their music today ... and will ALSO admit to having watched The Temptations bio-pic AT LEAST fifty times now. (It's nothing short of a personal addiction for Frannie and I ... we simply CANNOT get past it if channel-surfing. If we dare to stop on this film ... ANY time, ANY day, we know in advance that we will end up watching the entire four hour deal again! And I've got to tell you, it is SO well done that I HIGHLY recommend it to ANYONE who may have some how escaped seeing it by now.)
The Temptations were that rare breed of entertainment that went through numerous personnel changes along the way yet still managed to retain their sound, their integrity and their audience in the process.
One such change was the addition of Dennis Edwards (formerly a member of The Contours, who scored big with "Do You Love Me" back in 1962, prior to Dennis joining the band), who officially replaced the problematic David Ruffin in July of 1968, six months after the aforementioned "I Wish It Would Rain" had its run up the charts. Edwards would take over lead vocals on their next hit, "Cloud Nine" (#4, 1969) and was also the featured vocalist on their subsequent #1 Hits "I Can't Get Next To You" (1969), "Ball Of Confusion" (1970) and "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" (1972) ... not a bad track record for the new kid in town! (In fact, Dennis Edwards sang lead vocals on the only two Grammy Awards The Temptations ever won!)
Over the past 40 years there have been SO many versions of The Temptations touring (and often competing against each other), that we have stayed clear of these various factions for fear of not knowing just which configuration best represented the sound we have since come to know and love.
So when I heard that The Temptations were performing in the Chicagoland area this past weekend at The Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, I had mixed emotions about going ... Dennis Edwards would be at the helm (in what is now billed as "The Temptations Review"), and at least he was the lead singer on a number of #1 Hits ... Otis Wilson, the one constant in The Temps over the years (and the only surviving original member), also still performs from time to time but despite his longevity, he was always more of a "support" player than a lead ... although it is his memoirs on which that The Temptations movie was based upon. Still, I felt compelled to see SOME version of the group while there was still the opportunity to do so, as so many other key members of the group have since passed on. Besides, I couldn't imagine them not doing justice to The Temptations "brand" ... these guys were THE premier R&B band here in America for close to two decades.
So, thanks to Forgotten Hits Reader Steve Sarley, and Genesee Theatre promoter Colleen Rogalski, who invited us out to see the show, we made the long trek out to Waukegan, Illinois, to see Dennis Edwards and The Temptations Review.
This was our first trip to The Genesee Theatre, a BEAUTIFUL spectacle in Waukegan ... but I'm guessing it was filled to less than 50% capacity Saturday Night. That's a shame, as our Master of Ceremonies that night explained that hosting Dennis Edwards and The Temptations Review completed the theatre's Motown Trifecta, having just played home to Pete Rivera of Rare Earth and Smokey Robinson in recent months.
Clearly Edwards had played The Genesee before ... and the crowd that DID turn out (an all ages crowd if I've ever seen one!) was there for the pure love of the music that this band has shared with us over the years. It was quite evident that this was a faithful crowd, many of whom have most likely seen some configuration of The Temptations several times before over the years. (Edwards must have mentioned "Waukegan" at least 45 times during the course of their two hour show, working it into the lyrics of their songs as well as during his between song patter ... fun and clever the first three or four times ... not so much after that!)
I guess when you're part of a group that has enjoyed nearly 40 Top 40 Pop Hits during their career it has got to be difficult trying to narrow down which ones to perform when you perform live in concert. No matter what you do, you're still going to leave out somebody's favorite. As such, The Temptations elected to include MOST of these hits in medley form, giving us just enough of a taste of each one to whet our appetite for more.
That's both a good thing and a bad thing ... there are certain songs that simply deserve the full-length treatment ... and The Temps only served up a couple of songs in their entirety the whole night. These included a killer rendition of their big #1 smash hit "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" which, when backed by their full nine-piece band (aka The Temptations Review Orchestra, featuring a four-piece brass section and a couple of keyboard players who filled in all the strings and incidental effects), became one of the evening's highlights ... and a slowed-down arrangement of "I Wish It Would Rain", which was dragged on for about ten minutes of audience participation, again was, at first, quite entertaining but, after five or six minutes of the same, not so much.
Other MONSTER hits guaranteed to bring the audience to their feet were also presented in abbreviated form. These included "Ain't Too Proud To Beg", a guaranteed show-stopper on ANY given night, "Cloud Nine", "Psychedelic Shack", "I Can't Get Next To You" and "The Way You Do The Things You Do." (I must add, however, that "Ball Of Confusion", which completed their first hits medley of the night, was a stand-out performance. As such, I was primed and ready, hoping for more of the same as the night moved forward ... but most of their hits were presented as almost a passing fancy or obligation, rather than an expression of just how powerful these songs really were at the time.) In fact, instead of featuring more of these universally familiar tracks, the band opted to include several songs that have long since disappeared from view (and our consciousness) due to the limited airplay playlists that besiege radio today ... "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)", "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" (which DID get a good response), "It's Growing", "My Baby", "It's You That I Need", "Since I Lost My Baby" and several others that even the die-hard Temptations fans had a hard time remembering and recognizing.
Even their two biggest career #1 Hits, "My Girl" and "Just My Imagination" were presented in medley form (with each other) to close out the show ... to my mind, a complete injustice to their indelible contribution to The Motown Sound and long-lasting appeal.
WORD TO THE WISE: Perhaps the best example that drove this point home to me was their ten minute performance of "Some Enchanted Evening", in which they reinvented the song's melody (making it almost unrecognizable in the process), in favor of displaying some vocal gymnastics ... it not only went on too long, but was completely unnecessary. I feel quite confident in saying that there probably wasn't a single member of the audience who wouldn't have GLADLY traded these ten minutes of tedious boredom for full-length versions of more of the music we all really came to hear.
I will say this ... Edwards has put together a stellar group of vocalists. I guess if you're going to pay tribute to The Temptations, there are certain "necessities" that have to be there ... including the high soprano / falsetto of Eddie Kendricks, the low-down bass and baritone of Melvin Franklin, and the strong rich tenor voices of David Ruffin, Otis Wilson and Paul Williams. In this regard, he succeeded ... each vocalist displayed their incredible talent and richness of voice where needed. (In fact one of those vocalists is none other than Paul Williams, Jr., a fact I was unaware of until Dennis introduced the group!) Edwards also wisely distributed the lead vocals to the individuals best suited to handle them ... and often took on more of a background role as the material dictated. Without a doubt, each and every man on stage was impressive in their presentation ... it's just a shame that we weren't treated to more of an overall show of the hits ... far too many songs went on for far too long, almost as if they were stretching for time to fill their two hour slot ... and the selection of so many lesser known (and, in some cases, UNKNOWN) material rather than playing up (and paying more attention to) their best known hits left the audience more than a little disappointed. (That's not just MY opinion ... we heard this from several fans leaving the theater on their way back to their cars who were expressing the exact same view.)
Frannie was able to grab a couple of shots of Dennis Edwards and Paul Williams, Jr., shaking hands
with their fans at the end of the show. (That's her marquee shot up at the top of this piece, too)
Overall Concert Review (on a scale of 1 - 10) : 5
My understanding is that The Temptations are headed to Broadway for a two week string of performances with The Four Tops (who, sadly, are also missing their original lead singer). Ironically, they'll be competing with "Motown: The Musical" playing right up the street.
Perhaps in this configuration, each band will be forced to play a pared-down set of music, thus concentrating on giving the audience the very best of their best material. I hope so ... it will make for a far more enjoyable show.