Review: Stylistics superb at Blaisdell
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
The Stylistics were two songs into their show when Herb Murrell, the emcee of the group, told the audience to feel free to “sang along” to any song they recognized.
Not “sing along,” he explained, but “sang along. Put some collard greens and corn bread into it!”
There was a whole lotta sanging going on in the Blaisdell Concert Hall last night, Dec. 28, as the Stylistics — founding members Murrell and Airrion Love plus Harold Eban Brown and Jason Sharpe — entertained a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd with a solid 90 minutes of classic soul music. The set list included all of their biggest hits, several coulda-been hits that did much better in Europe than here in the ‘States, and, yes, “Ebony Eyes” too.
“I’m Stone In Love With You,” “Betcha By Golly, Wow,” “Break Up To Make Up” and “You Are Everything” were welcomed with enthusiastic applause. All four quickly became mass sang-alongs. So much sanging in fact that some folks must have been putting hog maws and chitlins into it as well as corn bread and greens.
There was major sanging on almost all the hits. “You’re A Big Girl Now,” the Stylistics’ first Hot 100 hit didn’t get nearly as much as say, “Let’s Put It All Together,” but there was more than enough to show that a lot of people in the hall remembered it as well.
On the other hand, “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart),” the first Stylistics hit produced by Thom Bell and written by Bell and the late Linda Creed, was apparently unknown to most of the audience.
“Ebony Eyes” was the final number in a beautifully presented segment where the guys talked about the history of the group and did songs that had been hits in other parts of the world (Although “Ebony Eyes” was a hit in Hawaii it was a “B side” and did not chart nationally). The Stylistics presented it in an arrangement that was slightly different than the record but the fans went wild as soon as they recognized it.
Throughout the evening, on the hits and the more or less obscure choices alike, the classic Stylistics harmonies were as smooth as ever. The choreography was smooth and dramatic. Brown, the Stylistics’ lead/falsetto vocalist since Y2K, hit all the high notes with ease; he also gave an impressive demonstration of how long he can hold a note.
Murrell epitomized the polished wit and charisma of a classic soul group emcee as he talked about old times, being in love or looking for love, and about the experience of slow dancing in the basement at house party. He also dealt effectively with the loud-mouths who occasionally made themselves known. The crowd responded loudly and lustily to Murrell’s moves as a solo dancer. No doubt about it, he’s got skillz there too.
Love was the most prominent of the four in a “meet the group” segment. He spoke of his religious faith, led the crowd through some Sunday morning call/response affirmations, recalled the days 40 years ago when he had an afro and sideburns, and said that although he has joined Murrell in the “64 Club” (he’s three months younger than Murrell, they’re both 64 years old) he feels good and that “everything’s working.”
Sharpe, the newest member of the group, was animated and entertaining. He took the lead vocal on the group’s remake of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and worked the stage from one end to the other. The song, a #1 hit for the Tokens in 1961, was never a hit for Stylistics but Sharpe led the group in showing that it could have been.
The group held back a couple of hits till late in the show for dramatic impact. Love finally got his time as lead singer with “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” the song that is both the Stylistics’ only notable duet released during their Thom Bell/Linda Creed period and their all time biggest hit single. The song ended with Love and Brown singing side-by-side. Their duet was one of the dramatic high points in the show.
What could possibly follow that? A energetic rocking and rolling rendition of “Rockin’ Roll Baby” of course. That would have been a good number to close the show with but there was a lot more to come. The “meet the group” segment with the coulda-been-hits songs that followed the brief pro forma departure from the stage was an inspired change-of-pace.
All four Stylistics spent the final moments of the show touching hands with as many of the fans down front as they could reach. It was a fine way to finish an excellent show. Measured by the quality of the group’s performance, the comprehensiveness of the set list in including the songs that the fans expected to hear, and the involvement of the audience, it deserves to be counted as one of the year’s best.
All going well the Stylistics will be back to do it again this time next year.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.