Many of The Temptations' R&B hits from the 1960s and '70s have become embedded in our collective consciousness, which could work either for or against the classic vocal group when it performs. Luckily, for an audience of more than 700 fans at the Fox Tucson Theatre, our familiarity with the material was in the group's favor.
The Tempts handily invoked our musical memories during their hour-long set, but their performances of songs 30 and 40 years old also felt new, thanks to contemporary arrangements and some thrilling singing.
Granted, this wasn't the original Temptations. The lineup has evolved over the decades, and some of the group's older and most popular singers (David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin) have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
Otis Williams, the last remaining original member, is still shepherding the group through its choreographed paces, and he has surrounded himself with some smooth and powerful vocalists, most notably Ron Tyson, who's been a Temptation since 1983. Tyson's cotton-candy falsetto induced aural flashbacks on "My Girl," "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "Just My Imagination."
A special treat was the singing of XXL-sized lead vocalist Bruce Williamson, a member since last year, whose gritty, turbo-charged style brought a funkiness to the proceedings that it might otherwise have lacked.
Few songs were younger than 30 years old, and the group wasted only a little time playing tunes from the last two albums--Reflections (2006) and Front to Back (2007)--which are essentially collections of covers of songs popularized by other artists. That said, the Tempts' interpretations of two Marvin Gaye hits, "Can I Get a Witness" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," sounded immaculate.
A five-piece backing band was bolstered by a 10-piece brass section of players borrowed from the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and they acquitted themselves well.
As much fun as it was, it wasn't the ideal Temptations concert for everyone. The set was heavy on the hits played on oldies radio, with several tunes often elided together in quasi-medley fashion, and it was light on many of the cutting-edge psychedelic-soul songs from the early 1970s. Nonetheless, when those harmonies on "Get Ready," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" filled the hall, it was heaven.