All words: Ross Bonaime
There are few musical groups that make me as nostalgic as The Four Tops and The Temptations. “My Girl” is one of the first song I ever remember hearing as a child and the music of both artists permeated my childhood. I would imagine this is the case for many people, even if you don’t know the band per se, the songs from almost half a century ago still pop up everywhere. The Four Tops and The Temptations came up in the Motown Records days, arguably the most important label of all time, with artists like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Marvin Gaye, and went on to influence the course of music ever since. With the exception of one member apiece, all of the members of these classic bands have passed away, but what is more important is that the bands have lived on through other singers picking up the torch, influenced by both and continuing the legacy. When The Four Tops and The Temptations came to Wolf Trap it was clear that this legacy is still going strong and is still quite impressive.
Before taking the stage, The Four Tops were preceded by their band playing a medley of some of their well-known hits, complete with a ten-piece brass section. When the quartet did take the stage, it was exactly how you would imagine: matching suits, catchy songs and simple yet fun choreography. Two of their biggest hits, “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “Bernadette”, before telling a story about how he bet the head of Motown Records that he could make “It’s The Same Old Song” enter the top of the charts. The band won the bet and Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the only remaining original member, said that he used his winnings to buy his then-fiancé a car.
Even though Fakir is the last of the original Four Tops, many of the other members have been around for quite some time. While the group’s set is fun and high-energy, there are moments where they understandably don’t sound quite as great as they once did. There’s the occasional singer that goes a bit higher than he should have, or the misstep in choreography, but it’s no big deal compared to what they are giving.
After a run of song that included tracks like “Walk Away Renee” and the pretty awesome “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” the group brought it down a bit to honor the three members of the band that had passed away after 44 years of performing together. The Four Tops take turns performing solos for each of the members. First is a solo of the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On”, which was co-written by The Four Tops’ Renaldo Benson. Next comes Lawrence Payton Jr., whose father was an original member, to perform Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.” It’s a tender performance and great to see him follow in his father’s footsteps. Finally wrapping up this set, Duke performs “My Way,” before the other members join him once again.
To wrap up, The Four Tops performed quite a few of their other hits, like “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)” and to finish off, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” before leaving the stage for The Temptations to come out.
The Temptations’ set starts just like The Four Tops: a medley of hits, followed by The Temptations hitting the stage, with all matching red suits. After a few of their songs like “Glass House” and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” the audience took to their feet with the performance of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” While all five members of The Temptations are still impressive, even Joe Herndon, who has to sit on a stool during most of the set due to knee surgery, the real stand out is Bruce Williamson, which the band calls “Big Sexy.” He’s a big, powerful singer that blows everyone else away and has moves that don’t seem like they should be able to be performed by him. He’s a energetic and playful performer that stole the entire show easily.
Amongst other hits like “Just My Imagination,” The Temptation’s first platinum record, the group does play around with the audience a bit too much. In fact, some older, disgruntled audience members seemed mad that they were focusing on audience participation and games rather than singing more and more songs. It did go on for a bit too long, but when they went back to singing their hits at the end of their set, all was forgotten.
Ending the set, The Temptations performed “Treat Her Like A Lady,” then the song they consider ‘The Temptations National Anthem’: “My Girl,” which made the crowd once again go crazy with excitement, before closing out the night with “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”
Seeing The Four Tops and The Temptations is seeing legends before classic hits that helped shape music history. Even with newer, younger members, the songs might not sound quite as good, and the choreography may be a few seconds off, but none of that matters. Both groups still have their hearts in the songs that defined so much of music history over 50 years after the fact and can still put on a great show like they’ve done for since the band’s inception.