While the catalogues of Motown and Stax get all the attention, the "Philadelphia sound" of the '70s - headquartered at Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records - if often overlooked, and that's a pity. This concert, filmed last year for a PBS fundraiser and in conjunction with the release of the 4-CD box set of the same name
, showcases many of the PI stars revisiting their classics. Producers were also blessed with an extremely appreciative crowd, and the shots of the middle-aged (and up) audience grooving to the soundtrack of their youths is actually quite endearing.
Force of Nature Eddie Levert, sweating and grunting for joy, leads the O'Jays through "I Love Music," "Use Ta Be My Girl," and "People Get Ready/Love Train." The Ice Man Jerry Butler proves minimalist stage movement and vocal inflections can still command attention with "Never Gonna Give You Up," and one-hit wonders (and white boys) Soul Survivors - or at least two of them - rip it up with a good-time "Expressway to Your Heart."
Harold Melvin's Blue Notes (sans Teddy Pendergrass) do a moving version of the socially-conscious "Wake Up Everybody," as a large and crack backing orchestra of players and singers play throughout.
But the main problem here is the extremely miserly offering of only 13 of the evening's performances, when many more were filmed. What's the point of having the amazing Russell Thompkins, Jr. faithfully recreate his high falsetto from the Stylistics' heyday, only to just show "I'm Stone in Love with You?" The Spinners had many hits, but only G.C. Cameron's buoyant "The Rubberband Man" is included. And what's the point of having the elegant Three Degrees, but only as backup vocalists and not doing their monster hit "When Will I See You Again?"
The bonus material throws in a couple of other songs, including a wonderful "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" by the Delfonics. Lead singer William Hart, quite understandably, can no longer hit the highest notes of the original recording, but the sheer passion in his voice and determination on his face speaks volumes. Also here is a very, very long, hagiographic documentary on Gamble and Huff - something that might make Thom Bell and a lot of PI artists shake their heads.
Perhaps the agreement with PBS meant contributors who saw the one-hour version on TV got a much-longer DVD (as is often the case). The lack of chyrons also make it difficult to determine which singing group members are from the lineups on the original recordings. Thus, while the Love Train
concert DVD runs on time and with style, there are too few stops on the route.
Sony Legacy, $14.98