Sunday, June 27, 2010

The No Spin Zone

The Spinners bring the Philly sound to Nor Cal after taking fashion tips from Big Bird.

On Friday night I went to the local fair to see The Spinners in concert. It wasn't really a show I was looking forward to, the main reason for going was to see some relatives who had an interest in it. Not that I mind The Spinners music, just I'm skeptical of groups where most of the key members are missing or dead. Do I want to see a cover band run around with the original name? Sometimes these types of bands can be deadly, running through tired routines with the enthusiasm of a chain gang. And others can actually be kinda fun. The Spinners, believe it or not, was the latter.

Sure it helps that The Spinners had a number of hits, although going in I only knew maybe one or two by name. But even with that this show could have been horrible. When the band opened with "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" as one of the two surviving original members barely croaked out the lead vocal, I thought I was in for an hour of serious pain.

Yet this guy and his other original member dude (both are in their 70s) were smart and hired a crack backing band. The rhythm section wasn't just professional, they were smokin'. R&B isn't often a musician's showcase, yet the supple bass rhythms and sharp drums gave The Spinners some muscle. And the three younger replacement Spinners seemed to truly enjoy live performance, energetically tackling their vocals and dance moves. the original member was right to call the trio "stimulus packages" as they provided most of the firepower on the front line.

And in a move that I can only describe as pure Barry Manilow, The Spinners have retained the type of canned stage patter and gaudy costuming that surely existed in the 70s (canary yellow suits!). There was a knowing silliness to it all as if to say "We know this is a joke with no credibility so get over it and enjoy the ride." They say the key to moving pictures is the "suspension of disbelief". Same goes for The Spinners of 2010. Once you accept this is not a true creative force but a mock up no different than say Mamma Mia or Lynyrd Skynyrd, there is some enjoyment to be had. Even with the lazy choreography (didn't R&B vocal groups have to train to spin at the same time once?).
The band had enough hits in their catalog to stay away from the dreaded "cover other bands music to fill space" gimmick which was nice. Except for the vocalist solo spots, where the younger singers shined as the band turned from generic background music to "Let's Get It On" or "Get Up Offa That Thing" on a dime. Comfortable readings of past hits like "Games People Play" or "I'll Be Around" went smoothly without any incidents.

By the time the group pounded through their smash "Rubberband Man" complete with a psychedelic strobe light dance featuring giant rubber bands, there was no denying that this version of The Spinners could do well on the fair circuit. Is it better than the real thing? Hell no. But for cheap live entertainment, you could do a lot worse. And if you squint your eyes real hard, maybe you could find yourself back in 1973 for a second.

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