Music Review: The Four Tops

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Take in a night of Motown music featuring The Four Tops with the Nashville Symphony, Sept. 11 - 13.

FirstBank Pops Series presents:
The Four Tops (Sept. 11 – 13; All ages)
Schermerhorn Symphony Center
1 Symphony Place, Nashville
687-6400 • nashvillesymphony.org
Remaining show times: 8 p.m.
Tickets: $39 – $138

Celebrating its eighth year in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Nashville Symphony opens its FirstBank Pops Series of the 2014 – 2015 season with the sounds of Motown featuring The Four Tops.

The delightful evening of music starts with Conductor Vinay Parameswaran leading the Nashville Symphony in four vibrant numbers during a 30-minute set. The symphony begins with the driving, rhythmic force of Dmitri Kabalevsky’s “Overture to Colas Breugnon,” from the 1930s opera, followed by the lively “Fire Dance” from Manuel De Fallas El amor brujo (“The Bewitched Love”). The fast pace of this number perfectly depicts in musical form the gypsy girl haunted by the ghost of her dead husband.

Bringing things States side, the symphony doles out a couple of sure-fire, crowd-pleasing numbers by two of our most beloved composers of all time: Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Porter wrote “Begin the Beguine” in 1935 while on a cruise in the South Pacific. That same year, the song made its first appearance by June Knight in the Broadway musical, Jubilee, and the Nashville Symphony offers a wonderful rendition arranged by Ralph Hermann. The Gershwin nod comes way of the “Overture” from Girl Crazy. Most audience members will remember the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical film, Girl Crazy, from the 1940s, but Girl Crazy started as a stage musical in 1930 that launched both Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers into stardom. The symphony energizes the audience with the “Overture,” in which listeners will recognize snippets from numbers including “I Got Rhythm,” “Bidin’ My Time” and “Embraceable You.”

The second half of the evening features several numbers by the Four Tops with their own band along with the Nashville Symphony led by guest conductor Turhan Terrell. The Four Tops were instrumental in establishing the Motown sound, and its repertoire includes R&B, soul music, doo-wop, jazz, adult contemporary and showtunes. The original Four Tops (Levi Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton) spent more than 40 years in the spotlight, racking up 24 Top 40 pop hits along the way.

Today, only one of the original Four Tops remains (Fakir), and at 78 years old, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Joining him on stage are Lawrence Payton Jr., Ronnie McNeir and Harold Bonhart. While there are times on stage when it feels more like seeing a cover/tribute band (given only one original member remaining), together the foursome entertain audiences young and old alike with nearly 20 unforgettable hits.

Despite a few sound issues at the beginning with the pop musicians drowning out the symphony (as well as the singers) that finally resolve themselves, The Four Tops deliver a spectacular night of song including audience favorites like “Baby I Need Your Lovin’,” “Bernadette,” “Keeper of the Castle,” “When She Was My Girl,” MacArthur Park,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got),” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and more.

While The Four Tops have no problem getting the audience on its feet throughout the show, two of the most memorable moments come way of slower tunes, particularly Payton Jr.’s tribute to his dad, “Dance With My Father” (written by the late Luther Vandross), and Fakir’s rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” dedicated to the late Levi Stubbs.

The Four Tops certainly cater to an older generation of concert-goers, but kids of all ages have plenty to enjoy as well, and that’s the magic, power and wonder of live music: it knows no age boundaries.

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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