London, IndigO2 [Thurs, Sept 18, 2014]
From the moment bassist James Williams began to warm his fingers up playing along to the pre-match DJ’s penultimate selection of MFSB’s Sexy, this began to feel like a special gig. For a second there it might have seemed a touch unfair to spin one of Philly’s instrumental anthems right before the on-stage assembly tried to recreate the vibe live, but as it happened, they were well up to the job. With Darren Daughtry on guitar, Edwin Nicholas on keys, Fred Holiday on drums and the remarkable Mira Gonzalez taking care of percussion, MD Dennis Williams had a very capable crew at his side. Just as The O’Jays deserve.
And, boy, can those guys from Cleveland still sing. There’s Walter Williams soaring off out of his mellow middle into heights no man of that age should be able to reach, and Eddie Levert growling and roaring like an angry grizzly – no wonder Eric Nolan Grant has been happy to play support guy for going on 20 years. Nobody else sounds like The O’Jays: not way back then when their hits were never off the charts, and not now, when decent soul vocal groups are a rarity.
Naturally, the running order was a mixture of mega-hits – Use Ta Be My Girl drew a huge reaction and Love Train while people doing the conga – and less widely purchased album cuts. Cry Together allowed Eddie plenty of scope to poke fun at himself playing the loverman, and yet he still put enough heart into it to turn it into a deep soul classic. His vocal attack on Back Stabbers was impressive, too. Saving For The Love Of Money up for a rousing, funky finale, the guys offered no encore but still pulled off a beautifully paced performance that had the crowd of mainly 40- and 50-somethings heading away happily. In short, it was masterful stuff.