Photos and words by Carla Bova
“So much rhythm, grace and debonair…”
They were singing about “The Rubberband Man,” but legendary R&B artists The Spinners may as well have been referring to themselves.
The five soulful vocalists, who played six shows in three days at the venue over the post-holiday weekend, were irresistible from the start — smiling, harmonizing, and dancing nonstop. Fom the moment they walked onstage, in matching yellow suits, their singular style and finesse was undeniable. Their choreography was cool and constant. The most subtle sway was smooth. A simple ball-change was full of funk.
The Spinners were preceded onstage by a masterful tease in which the backing band, led by Keith Ferguson, played a medley of songs to come. It filled the sold-out crowd at Yoshi’s in Oakland with anticipation as people recognized one by one the parade of hits they were about to hear.
Henry Fambrough is the last original member of the group, which formed in Detroit in 1954. Members have passed, and several talented singers have come and gone over the decades. These days, Fambrough is joined by lead singer Charlton Washington, high tenor Marvin Taylor, tenor Ronnie Moss, and bass singer Jessie Peck.
The Spinners were at once suave singers and playful performers. They joked with the crowd, but were serious about their craft and history. Their music brought happiness, as well as bittersweet memories, for many.
The quintet opened the show with “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love?” which is one of The Spinners’ five songs to hit #1 on the U.S. R&B chart in the 1970s.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great song written by Stevie Wonder,” said Washington when introducing “It’s A Shame,” which is regarded as the group’s major Motown hit.
“This is a great song written by Mr. Wille Nelson,” he said of “Funny How Time Slips Away.” To the delight of the audience, Moss ended the song with a grand musical feat — an extreme, extended high note.
Just like that, with a familiar riff and a famous first line, came a bit of sadness at recalling love lost. “This…is our fork in the road / Love’s last episode.” That was “I’ll Be Around,” a melody that started on the B-side and went on to hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.
“That guy is incredible,” Taylor said of Fambrough as the song came to an end. “He has been doing it since the ‘50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s.”
Then right back to the joy and more charting classics with “Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me Girl,” “Cupid/“I’ve Loved You For A Long Time,” and “Then Came You,” which was unparalleled even without Dionne Warwick.
The show ended with a favorite “The Rubberband Man” and a dance with large rubber bands. Truly, “so much rhythm, grace, and debonair.”