Spectrum, the Motown tribute group that performed Saturday with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, always comes up with ways to surprise you.
Last time the band was here, three years ago, leader and founder Cushney Roberts leaped off the stage of Kleinhans Music Hall into the aisle.
This time around, he repeated that feat – and in the middle of the same song, “Backstabber.”
Not only that, but he did it again, later in the show. And both times, he upped the amazement by then jumping nimbly, casually back up onto the stage, as if the stage were a foot high, not shoulder height.
How did he do that?
I watched carefully, and I saw him get a running start of a few steps. Then he just skipped up.
These are real showmen. Saturday night’s show had them harmonizing and dancing in adorable sync, working their way through songs from “The Way You Do the Things You Do” to “Under the Boardwalk” to “Uptight.”
They bowed together, twirled around and played patty-cake. Even the simple grapevine step was magic when they did it, with their heads down, their hands on their hearts.
They wore natty black suits in the concert’s first half, sparkly red jackets in the second. The quartet strikes a fine balance. David Prescott’s silken falsetto was a hit. The big crowd broke into applause in “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” when Prescott soared to the heights and then sank to his knees and dipped down into the bass.
Darryl Grant and Pierre Jovan added rich harmonies, creating a luscious curtain of sound.
Unfortunately, the sound system muddied the voices horribly. It got to the point where people in the crowd were yelling, “We can’t hear the words!” Though things improved somewhat through the night, the glitches were never corrected.
This was a problem with Wynonna Judd, too, a couple of weeks ago. Why we can’t correct this, in a hall like this and with voices like this, I can’t imagine. It’s so frustrating.
The musicians dealt with the situation as best they could. The Philharmonic added a lush dimension. Swirling strings set off the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” Associate conductor Matthew Kraemer – Roberts called him “my new best friend, Maestro Matt Kraemer” – coordinated things well.
The hits came one after another. We got the James Brown sound with “It’s a Man’s World.” A Righteous Brothers medley, Roberts pointed out, saluted “blue-eyed soul.” “Mack the Knife” was high-energy fun.
A Four Tops medley was bittersweet to Buffalonians who had caught concerts featuring this legendary group. Kleinhans played host to the Four Tops when three of the four were still around, and last time, they were down to one. What a noble American success story these men were, and how lucky we were to glimpse them as we did.
Spectrum has paid homage to the Four Tops in Las Vegas and toasted that gentlemanly tradition.
“This is music that has backbone,” Roberts announced, in a moment of calm when he was not leaping on and off our stage. “Music that has integrity, That has intestinal fortitude.” He laughed. “Music that has stood the test of time.”
He sounded like a preacher.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” he said. “This is music where you can understand the words.
“I’m talking about music like this,” he said. And he launched into “My Girl.”
The audience loved it, and the night ended in cheers.