Otis Williams recently turned 77 and is the last surviving founder member of the Temptations. In a gold-flecked indigo jacket, he still looks dapper and rather dashing. “Do we have any party people here tonight?” he asks, rather redundantly. The audience for a classic Motown double-header are self-selecting party people, an enthusiastic crowd who prove ready and willing to jump up and bop to two back catalogues brimming with evergreen hits.
Perhaps because they both feature only one original member apiece, the Temptations and Four Tops – who will alternate as headliners on this tour – have not skimped on sonic firepower. Both acts are bolstered by a slick rhythm section and nine-piece brass ensemble who provide a muscular backstop to their signature vocal flights. The overall result is a solid soul revue that’s more breezy than cheesy.
The 2018 incarnation of the Temptations may resemble artful codgers but they still have a new album, All the Time, to promote (“Our first product in eight years,” notes Williams, wistfully). They do a creditable cover of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, but the standouts are a thumping Ball of Confusion, a widescreen cry of rage at a chaotic world, and a heartfelt I Wish It Would Rain in tribute to former Temptation Dennis Edwards, who died this year. It helps that their five veteran singers take a peloton approach, with Larry Braggs and Ron Tyson swapping vocals throughout their set.
The Four Tops have injected a little more youth into their current lineup, although founder member Duke Fakir, who turns 83 next month, is still a commanding presence, cracking wise despite being mostly confined to a stool because of a recent hip injury. The four-piece rattle through scolded love songs such as Bernadette and Walk Away Renee, but it does feel mostly like preamble until they hit Reach Out (I’ll Be There) and I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch). The connecting threads to their heyday may be a little frayed but the spirit remains strong.