Inside the beautifully restored STNJ auditorium in New Brunswick, NJ, this Sunday, November 7, 2021, a packed house anxiously awaits the start of a concert by two legendary Motown musical groups — The Temptations and The Four Tops.
Lights dim as the red velvet curtain rises to reveal a stage filled with musicians on guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, and horns who play an instrumental medley of Four Tops’ hits. Four voices are then heard singing a cappella before an announcement is made: “This show is dedicated to the memory of Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson, Lawrence Payton, and Levi Stubbs.”
The crowd applauds as the current members of The Four Tops — Alex Morris, Ronnie McNeir, Roquel Payton, and founding member Abdul “Duke” Fakir — enter in flashy silver outfits singing “Loco in Acapulco.” The Tops dance and sing as they switch off singing lead on this bouncy tune with a Latin feel.
The audience cheers as the Tops imitate the sounds of trumpets while scat-singing their way toward the song’s conclusion.
Morris asks, “How you doin’?” before declaring, “Let me hear you scream!” The audience happily complies as the Four Tops perform the group’s 1964 million-seller, “Baby I Need Your Loving.” The Tops dance with synchronized steps, their voices showing terrific range and style, before echo-singing the “Baby I need your loving/Got to have all your loving” refrain with the crowd.
Fakir greets the audience exclaiming, “After a year and half, you look great!” adding, “I’m just glad to be here — free at last!” After introducing the members of the group, colored lights flash and spin as the Tops break into a soulful rendition of the group’s 1967 Top 5 Billboard hit, “Bernadette.”
The STNJ auditorium is filled with the timeless sounds of Motown as the vocalists wail and plead, “Bernadette, keep on loving me/Bernadette, keep on needing me” to avid cheers and applause.
Moving on to a rollicking rendition of the quartet’s 1965 Top 5 tune, “It’s the Same Old Song,” the sound of horns fills out the arrangement, and the quartet follows up with a spirited version of 1966’s “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” the group dancing and shimmying on stage.
Fakir, 85, jokes, “We have to slow things down for me!” before taking a seat and recalling how he was present when the group’s next number was originally composed. Explaining, “Whitney Houston made it a hit, but we recorded it first,” Fakir and his colleagues perform the lovely ballad, “I Believe in You and Me.”
Alex Morris sings lead on this number, his powerful voice interpreting this classic composition with soul and feeling as Fakir and the rest of the Tops harmonize lush background lines.
The crowd registers its approval and Fakir announces, “Let the good times roll!” as the group launches into “I Got a Feeling,” an upbeat tune which features a honking sax solo. They follow up with their interpretation of Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” where McNeir deliver a cool, jazzy lead before Morris takes over doing a gravelly Louis Armstrong imitation.
Faker pays tribute to the original members of the Four Tops stating, “We don’t want you to forget them. They left us a legacy that we’re going to keep going,” revealing, “Renaldo Benson was the happiest,” “Lawrence Payton had a musical ear; he would have the parts arranged in his head,” and “Levi Stubbs could interpret words and feel every word — he could bring a tear to your eye when he sang.”
Here, McNeir is featured singing lead on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — a tune which was co-written by original Tops’ member Renaldo “Obie” Benson — before Morris segues into the Tops’ 1972 Top 100 single, “A Simple Game.”
Morris declares, “We came here to party! What about you all? Everybody get up!” Happy audience members jump out of their seats to party to the Tops’ 1981 Top 20 hit, “When She Was My Girl.” As the crowd claps and moves to the song’s disco-style arrangement, members of the group serenade several ladies in the front row and even hold the hand of one woman in the crowd.
Lights swirl over the audience as Morris sings lead on the Tops’ 1973 Top 5 tune, “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got.” The quartet follows up with a dynamic rendition of one of the Tops’ signature songs — their 1966 #1 smash, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” — where the quartet musically reaches out and connects with the audience.
Following avid applause, the group keeps the party rollin’ with a rockin’ performance of their 1966 Top 10 hit, “Standing in the Shadows of Love.” After the quartet announces, “We’ve got one more!” they launch into a high-energy version of the group’s 1965 chart-topper, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).”
As the crowd parties, Fakir acknowledges the fans, exclaiming, “The best in the North, the best in the South, the best in the East, the best in the West!” as the Four Tops leave the stage to whistles, cheers, and enthusiastic applause.
During intermission, we take a moment to chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of the show thus far. Declares Robin from Yardley, PA, “The Four Tops are excellent — just fantastic! They are so entertaining and a lot of fun, and it’s wonderful seeing them in this beautiful theater. I was raised in New Brunswick and I used to come here in the 1960s when it was a movie theater.”
Robin’s sister, Melanie from South Brunswick, agrees, adding, “The Four Tops were fantastic! They serenaded me on ‘When She Was My Girl,’ and they even reached out and touched me when they held my hand,” confessing, “I wasn’t nervous at all when it happened — they were so warm.”
Carey from Monroe Township calls The Four Tops’ performance tonight “Amazing. ” Explaining, “They brought me back to being a child,” Carey discloses, “I even got to shake ‘Duke’ Fakir’s hand — I’m just speechless!” before concluding, “Their music is just timeless. I want them to keep it flowing forever.” Adrienne from Monroe agrees, adding, “They kept the audience completely engaged. You could tell they enjoyed singing their songs — and the audience did, too — everyone was standing and singing along with them.”
Whereas Sue from Aberdeen exclaims, “I enjoyed their performance so much!” her husband, Chuck, declares, “I can’t believe ‘Duke’ Fakir is 85 years old,” joking, “He makes me feel young — and I’m 82!” Continuing, “They all had amazing energy — including ‘Duke,’ who stayed right with them,” Chuck concludes by noting, “Now, I can’t wait to hear The Temptations!”
The lights dim and the chatter of an AM radio station dial being tuned can be heard through the house PA system as short snippets of Temptations’ hits fill the air. The curtain opens to reveal a live band which plays a short overture under spinning spotlights before the crowd cheers as the Temptations — Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Willie Greene, Jr., and founding member Otis Williams — take the stage with their 1966 Top 40 hit, “Get Ready.”
Singing, “So fee fi fo fum/Look out baby ’cause here I come!” the quartet gets the crowd in the mood for more Motown soul as music lovers nod their heads and tap their toes to the driving beat.
Ron Tyson sings lead with his sweet, high voice before Terry Weeks’ rich tenor takes over on the group’s 1964 hit, “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue).”
After Tyson asks, “Where are the party people at?” the group dances and sings to their 1964 Top Ten hit, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Audience members clap along on this happy-go-lucky tune which has the quartet dancing and singing in harmony to colored lights which punctuate the song.
Otis Williams greets the crowd stating, “Let’s reminisce on some of this!” as Weeks sings lead on The Temps’ 1966 Top 20 hit, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Motown fans in the crowd enjoy the groove coming from the stage as they sing along and move to the music at their seats.
A highlight performance of the evening is The Temps’ electrifying rendition of their 1970 Top 5 record, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” the vocalists trading off singing lead as the “band plays on” to the infectious beat.
With a synthesizer simulating a thunderstorm on 1967’s “I Wish It Would Rain,” Weeks’ voice is supported by the harmonies of his colleagues, and the crowd joyfully sings along on the group’s easy-going 1971 #1 smash, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”
A wah-wah guitar effect is featured on the quintet’s rendition of their 1973 #1 hit, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” Stepping and slapping their feet as they sing, The Temps rock and roll with soulful vocals and synchronized moves before the group segues into a high-energy rendition of their 1969 #1 single, “I Can’t Get Next to You.”
Williams takes a few moments to chat with the audience announcing, “We’re celebrating 60 years now!” and introducing the group’s new single, “Is it Gonna Be Yes or No,” written by Smokey Robinson.
Starting off with Green singing bass, riffing cool and low while the other three “oooh” over him, Weeks channels Robinson on his lead, Tyson sings high and sweet, and Williams’ voice sounds mellow on this slow and sensual new song.
After introducing the members of their backup band, The Temptations introduce one another and the audience gives a standing ovation to Williams who just turned 80 years of age. Williams responds by blowing kisses to the crowd.
After stating, “This next one goes out to the ladies,” Weeks sings lead on the group’s 1984 hit, “Treat Her Like A Lady.” The men dance onstage, bending low and then kicking high to the disco-like beat before segueing into a cover version of McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and transitioning back into the original song to avid cheers.
Willie Green, Jr. introduces what he calls, “The Temptations ‘National Anthem’” and the vocalists perform their 1965 chart-topper, “My Girl.”
The crowd happily sings along and calls out “Hey, hey, hey” as they party at their seats and in the aisles. The entire audience stands, cheering and applauding, as the quartet comes forward to take a well-earned bow.
“Put your hands together for the mighty Temptations!” says the announcer as the quartet fist bumps, shakes hands, and takes selfies with audience members before bringing the concert to a satisfying close.
As we make our way out of the STNJ auditorium, we chat with several in the crowd tonight who share their opinions of the show. Remarks Denise from Woodbridge, “The Temptations were great; I want to come see them again!” Whereas Muna from East Brunswick calls tonight’s event “A great show!” Doreen from Michigan, declares, “It was just wonderful!”
Dominique from Edison recalls, “I grew up listening to this music. My parents would play it — and now I love it, too,” before adding, “and I not only enjoyed the music, but I thought the dancing was great, too!” Dominque’s mom, Rosaria, agrees, exclaiming, “I can’t believe Otis Williams is 80 years old!” and acknowledging, “My favorite song they did tonight was ‘My Girl.’”
Linda from Piscataway reveals, “I grew up with the Motown sound, and both The Four Tops and The Temptations were wonderful tonight — I’d love to see them both again.” Her husband, Stephen, confesses, “Even though I didn’t know the music well, it was a great show! I enjoyed the range of the voices, and the dancing was so much fun to watch.”
Lastly, we chat with Donna from Bridgewater who declares, “Tonight’s show was excellent — I really enjoyed it! Both groups still ‘got’ it, and brought back so many memories for me,” before exclaiming, “They made me wish I was a teenager again!”
For more information about The Four Tops, please go to facebook.com/FourTops. To learn more about The Temptations, please go temptationsofficial.com. For details on upcoming performances at STNJ — including Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on Nov. 26–28, Air Supply on Feb. 4, 2022, and The Righteous Brothers on Feb. 19, 2022 — please click on stnj.org.
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