Soul Men

Stephen Pennell dances the night away to the sound of classic soul.

Four Tops
Genting Arena

My luck was certainly in when I was at the park with the kids the other day. I got news of a spare ticket for a gig that should be on anybody’s bucket list – the Temptations and the Four Tops plus support. The Genting Arena is a brisk walk followed by a one-stop train ride from my home in the North Solihull stockbroker belt, so last minute though the call was, my attendance wasn’t threatened by any major logistical problems.

Unfortunately, our Gang of Four couldn’t get there early enough to see the full set by support act Tavares, but on the plus side we were in time to catch their two biggest crowd-pleasers, More Than A Woman and Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel. Suitably warmed up, we took advantage of the break in proceedings by calling a relative who works there to secure seats a bit closer to the action for the main event.

The Tops and the Tempts have been touring together for decades, and while each band do their best to outshine the other, the rivalry is friendly enough for them to agree on taking it in turns who should be headliners. Tonight the Temptations were first to take the stage, after a classic soul-style introduction from their veteran Master of Ceremonies.

Sharing the billing restricts their set to about an hour, which of course could never be sufficient for such a back catalogue, but it does guarantee a never-a-dull-moment intensity. Dance routines first taught by Motown choreographers fifty-odd years ago are as smooth as ever, and the songs are, of course, timeless. Sole surviving original member Otis Williams makes a contribution that belies his 74 years, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Larry Briggs, whose voice stands up against any soul superstar I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a few! His fantastic vocals were to the fore on Ain’t Too Proud To Beg and I Wish It Would Rain – the writer of which committed suicide due to the heartbreak referred to in the song – then all the groups’ talents were highlighted in a brilliant version of Ball of Confusion and show-closer, introduced as “our national anthem” – My Girl.

Like the Temptations, the ravages of time have reduced the Four Tops to one original member – Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir – and he wears his legendary status well. Duke does most of the talking and orchestrating, while his bandmates use their relative youth to recreate the power and energy of the dear, departed Levi Stubbs and co.

Highlights included Bernadette, Reach Out and Standing in the Shadows of Love. Simple Game was simply great, and particularly poignant was The Same Old Song – it has a different meaning with the others gone. I Can’t Help Myself was belted out ecstatically by the all-dancing crowd and crowned a fantastic evening. I’ll definitely be getting tickets when this show’s in town again, only I won’t leave it so late next time.