Music Review: Time just can't stop energized O'Jays train

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Anyone living for the weekend could not have started it off any better than with the O'Jays concert at the Benedum Center Friday night.


The O'Jays -- Walter Williams, left, Eric Nolan Grant and Eddie Levert -- gave the people what they wanted at the Benedum Friday night.
Click photo for larger image.

Original members Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and new guy Eric Nolan Grant brought their love train to Pittsburgh and showed new schoolers what old school is all about -- smooth moves, tight vocals and the kind of sex appeal that gets the point across without being graphic.

Of course, it helps to have a repertoire of hits and a packed house of fans -- many of whom were young adults when they heard them the first time. The O'Jays sang them all with Williams' silky tenor and Levert's raspy baritone leading the way.

The trio, resplendent in white suits, led off with "You've Got to Give the People What They Want." And, boy, did they ever! Using tight harmonies on Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," they segued into "Love Train," and the rest was one feel-good ride -- "Stairway to Heaven," "Let Me Make Love to You," "Used to Be My Girl," "Brandy," "Family Reunion," "Forever Mine," "Backstabbers." They also did an abbreviated version of "Wildflower," recorded originally by New Birth and recorded live by the O'Jays.

For their song "Living for the Weekend," they set up their own club on stage, complete with tables, drinks and several lucky ladies plucked from the audience. Levert, the flirt of the group, sat on one woman's lap, held the hand of another as he sang and gave a lingering hug to a third. Some audience members danced in the aisles.

The energy was amazing, especially considering that Levert and Williams have been singing together since 1957, a decade before they joined with Philadelphia International founders/songwriting partners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to help create the Philly sound.

The current generation may not know the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, but they certainly have heard their music in beer commercials and as the theme song for Donald Trump's "The Apprentice."

The trio ended the show with that cautionary tune about legal tender, "For the Love of Money."

Opening act Deniece Williams, who wrote and recorded a number of R&B hits in the '70s before focusing on gospel, has the kind of range that would make Mariah Carey quiver.

First she took her audience to church with the song "God Is Amazing" and then rolled out the crowd-pleasers like "That's What Friends Are For" (not the one recorded by Stevie, Elton, Gladys and Dionne); her first big hit, "Free"; and "Silly," a song she said she wrote about a love affair gone bad.

Williams ended her set with a gospel classic, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."


Monica Haynes can be reached at mhaynes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1660.


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