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Concert Review: The O’Jays at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, FL 1/12/12

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St. Petersburg showed the O’Jays lots of love this past Thursday night. So much love, in fact, that just about every song they performed met with an instant mix of feminine swoons and joyful sing-a-longs to fill the majestic Mahaffey Theater.

And the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers earned that love all night. More to the point, they worked for it, spinning and gliding in synchronized steps, engaging the audience at every turn, and demonstrating a commitment to not just sing but rather to entertain.

From the get-go, with a high-energy opening medley that included “Unity,” “Survivor,” and “Give the People What They Want,” original members Walter Williams and Eddie Levert, along with relative newcomer Eric Nolan Grant — all clad in matching white, sequined suits — personified showmanship and class.

Williams, for his part, was in fine form, enriching familiar hits and fan favorites with suave, considerate treatments — his lead vocals on an extended rendition of “Forever Mine” and, later, “Use Ta Be My Girl,” were bona fide highlights — yet it was Levert who delivered the show’s most soul-gripping, heartfelt moments. He’s suffered tremendous grief in recent years, including the loss of two adult sons, musicians Gerald and Sean Levert, in 2006 and 2008, respectively. “He’s got the strength of Job,” Williams said of his bandmate and friend, “and he’s bounced back, hard.”

Indeed, that resilience was evident and plentiful. With boyish charisma and seemingly boundless energy belying his age (he’ll turn 70 in June), Levert enlivened both slowjams (“Lovin’ You,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Cry Together”) and social statements (“Backstabbers,” “For the Love of Money,” “Love Train”) with urgent, earnest conviction.

The opportunity to experience in-person such legends of American music is growing increasingly scarce these days. With this spirited and superlative performance, though, the O’Jays lived up to their legacy.


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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Rickie Lee Jones, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • Greg Barbrick

    One of, if not THE greatest of the Gamble-Huff stable, this is a show I would have love to have seen.

    Why the Philly sound has never gotten the true respect it deserves as such an essential element of the 70’s blows my mind.

    I was too young “back in the day” for it to even be possible for me to go to any of those shows (if indeed any even made it to Seattle) is a drag.

    But I have to say you wrote a nice review, and I am a just a bit jealous that you got to see something like this. Long live the back up band as well – which we all know did now stand for Mothers Brothers Sisters Brothers –

    But Mf’m Sons O’ B****s – if ya know what I mean. Excellent stuff – ask Boyd why he never got it, cuz I never have gotten a straight answer out of him.