Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Another Triple Play Concert Review

We were treated to another triple play of musical entertainment Saturday Night at The Arcada Theatre where our host, Ron Onesti, presented the hit music of The Spinners, Ray Parker, Jr., and Reflection with their Tribute To Motown.  

Sadly, things got off to a bit of a rough start for The Spinners ... their first three songs were marred by sound problems ... their vocals were barely detectable, buried in loud echo and feedback that rendered their first three selections virtually unlistenable.  (This was tough to watch as I'm not quite sure just how aware The Spinners were of the problem ... they smiled through the whole misfortune, never missing a step with all their well-choreographed moves, playing off of one another as if absolutely nothing was wrong.  It's A Shame, too ... because one of those songs that was lost in this muddy mix happened to be one of my all-time favorites by them, the Stevie Wonder-penned "It's A Shame", a Top 20 Hit from 1970.)  Although the night was billed as heavy on Motown Music and Memories ... and this was, in fact, their biggest Motown Hit ... The Spinners made their REAL musical mark on the Atlantic Record Label, where they scored over a dozen Billboard Top 40 Pop Hits between 1972 and 1980.  Thankfully, the sound miraculously cleared up during their fourth number and the band rebounded beautifully.  After that, we were treated to hit after hit after hit, presented to near perfection.    

As the seasoned professionals that they are (they looked OUTSTANDING in their matching suits, by the way!), I have to say that some of the between song patter went on for far too long and seemed terribly "forced" in some instances ... they were trying much too hard and it quickly turned into "annoyingly cute" ... but they more than made up for this with their entertaining dance moves, incredible vocals and playfulness amongst themselves on stage.     

The Spinners, too, are now down to just one original member ... but this has been a case of older members passing away rather than any real dissent amongst the group.  Henry Fambrough is the last surviving member of the group, which formed in 1954 in Detroit, Michigan, and were taken under the wing of the legendary Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows.  (In fact, at one time they were billed as The Detroit Spinners.)  Their big break came in 1961 when they had a minor hit for Tri-Phi Records called "That's What Girls Are Made For" (#27).  Four years later they hit again for Motown with "I'll Always Love You" (#35) and then endured another dry spell before "It's A Shame" went to #14 in 1970 on the Motown V.I.P. subsidiary record label.  

Things turned around in a BIG way for the group after they signed with Atlantic Records in 1972 ... The Spinners were all over the radio dial with hits like "I'll Be Around" (#3, 1972); "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" (#4, 1973); "One Of A Kind (Love Affair)" (#11, 1973); "Games People Play (They Just Can't Stop It)" (#5, 1975); "The Rubberband Man" (#2, 1976) and their clever medleys "Working My Way Back To You / Forgive Me, Girl" (#2, 1980) and "Cupid / I've Loved You For A Long Time" (#4, 1980), as well as their "duet" with Dionne Warwick(e), "Then Came You", a #1 Hit in 1974. ALL of these songs were performed Saturday Night (and not in shortened, medley-form like we saw at our recent Dennis Edwards and The Temptations Review concert) ... full-length and (in some cases, like their 1974 Top 20 Hit "Mighty Love" and the "Cupid / I've Loved You For A Long Time" medley), extended versions!      

The other current members of the vocal group are Ronnie Moss, who replaced original member and lead singer Bobbie Smith after he passed away about a year and a half ago, Jessie Peck, their bass singer, who replaced Pervis Jackson when he passed away several years ago, Marvin Taylor, and Charlton Washington, their current lead singer.  Keeping things "all in the family", their lead guitarist is Ronnie Smith, son of Bobbie.  (Other key Spinners vocalists from their mega-hit years have also passed away over the years ... including Philippe Wynne and Billy Henderson).  

The Spinners band consists of Keith Ferguson, musical director, who has been with them for a very long time, on keyboards, Ray Burton on bass guitar, David Brandon on drums and the aforementioned Ronnie Smith on lead guitar.  As their manager Nat Burgess described them to me, "They are a killer band and all of them have been there for a long time now."  (Prior to taking over managerial duties, Burgess was their agent for over 25 years so, as he tells it, "I have seen all their shows with the different configurations as original founding members passed away and in this configuration it really nails the original sound of the Spinners.")  

The encore REALLY nailed the spirit of The Spinners as they knocked out some of their biggest hits including "One Of A Kind (Love Affair)", "Games People Play (They Just Can't Stop It)" and a KILLER rendition of "Rubberband Man" complete with a strobe light show and some "rubberband dancing" that had the whole crowd up on their feet, cheering along and dancing in the aisles.  A fun time to be sure by one of the GREAT bands of our time, Rock And Roll Hall-of-Famers, The Spinners.  

In complete contrast, Ray Parker, Jr., did about as laid-back a show as one could imagine ... it was COMPLETELY unexpected when he took the stage without a band, accompanied only by his bass player Freddie Washington.  (No, not "Boom Boom" from "Welcome Back Kotter" ... this is the Freddie Washington who wrote the timeless '80's pop hit "Forget Me Nots" ... which means I guess he also wrote the "Men In Black" theme, too, right???)  Freddie has worked with everybody from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder to Steely Dan to George Benson, Lionel Richie and Elton John ... a GREAT session musician.)  

Ray Parker, Jr., also spent a fair amount of HIS time in the recording studio laying down tracks for other artists before he went off on his own and hit pay dirt with his first hit (as Raydio), "Jack And Jill" (#6, 1978).  Other hits followed:  "You Can't Change That" (#9, 1979), "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)" (#4, 1981), "The Other Woman" (#2, 1982) and, of course, his #1 MONSTER Hit "Ghostbusters", which Ray says has now passed over 35 Million in sales!  

Parker set the tone from the get-go, pulling up a couple of bar stools, mixed  drinks in hand, inviting all of us to join him in "Ray's Living Room", where just about ANYTHING could happen .. because we were all just friends hangin' in "Ray's Living Room".  He opened his set with a parody of The Mamas and Papas song "California Dreamin'", reworded to explain how he had no band and was doing this show with just "me and Freddie" ... and then proceeded to wow us with his virtuoso guitar playing, throwing just about anything (and any style) into the mix ... he's one hell of a guitarist (who, I'm told, showed up the night before at The Arcada to watch one of his idols, Buddy Guy, perform!)  

Ray explained that part of the reason for his pairing with The Spinners is because he first joined The Spinners out on the road when he was just THIRTEEN YEARS OLD, playing guitar for the band.  Years later, when both acts were in the prime of their careers, Bobbie Smith asked Ray to write a song for The Spinners to record.  

Ray knew this had to be a hit ... he couldn't just submit a dozen songs and risk them rejecting anything ... he had to write a bona fide hit record right out of the box ... so he sat down and gave it some serious thought ... he took the melodies and styles of two of The Spinners' most recent hits ... "Games People Play (They Just Can't Stop It)" and "The Rubberband Man" and merged those two sounds, laying one on top of each other, coming up with what HE believed would be the PERFECT track for The Spinners to record.  

But, The Spinners turned it down ... said it just wasn't right for them.  Heartbroken, Ray Parker, Jr., decided to cut the track himself ... and when "You Can't Change That" reached The Top Ten, The Spinners had to apologize and admit that they had turned down a smash.  (Listen to it again with this thought in mind, side-by-side with these Spinners tracks ... and you'll see that Ray absolutely NAILED it!)

Parker is a very charismatic performer ... and his "living room" setting set the perfect stage for his performance that night ... we hated to see him leave.  (He would come back at the end and join The Spinners on stage for their killer encore.)  All in all, an OUTSTANDING set.   

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the opening act for both of these great artists, Reflection, a Motown-Tribute group of vocalists who were a last minute addition to the line-up.  It was a perfect fit.  (These are not young guys up there trying to compete with "Motown: The Musical" ... these guys are the real deal, obviously performing together for many years and presenting the perfect blend of Motown hits, highlighted by extended tributes to The Temptations and The Four Tops.)  It was their version of the Marvin Gaye song "Let's Get It On", however, that pushed this one over the top for me ... an absolutely stellar rendition of this Motown classic.  All of these guys can sing (and their "slowed down" choreography was both humorous and endearing.)  

They proved to be Arcada Theatre favorites and dozens and dozens of fans came up to the stage after their performance to take pictures with the band.  

Another remarkable night of music at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL ... fun from start to finish.  It just never ceases to amaze me the variety of musical style Ron Onesti continues to provide for his very loyal audience of concert-goers.  He can go from Buddy Guy to The Spinners to Cheap Trick to Burton Cummings to America to Eddie Money to Ronnie Spector ... and it all fits!!!  Be sure to check out the OShows website for upcoming shows ... Ron has already booked several superstar acts for 2015 ... so next year promises to be just as much fun as the past.  You can check 'em all out right here:     www.oshows.com