If the Easter Bunny came late Sunday morning, it’s probably because he was out rockin’ the night before with The Temptations Review, Three Dog Night, and The Doobie Brothers at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland instead of coloring eggs.
The three acts split a Saturday evening bill for the 2013 Moonlight Coronation Ball. Now in its 61st year, the event honors WJW disc jockey Alan Freed and the package concert he assembled at Cleveland Arena on March 21, 1952. That historic show—which was grossly oversold and shut down early by fire marshals—is generally regarded as the very first rock concert.
Ex-sportscaster Freed introduced Ohio to fresh rhythm and blues sounds before the world heard of Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, or Elvis Presley and is widely credited for coining the term “rock and roll” to describe the new musical style that had teens shaking in the aisles at record stores. He affectionately referred to his listening audience as “moondoggies” and crowned himself their king, howlin’ over the airwaves long before Wolfman Jack came along.
Hosted by Magic 105.7 WMJI radio personalities Mark Nolan and Don “Action” Jackson, this year’s ball featured four hours of vocal-powered soul and guitar-driven classic rock. Spenser Davis Group was slated to appear with TDN and The Doobies but withdrew earlier in the week due to Davis’ sudden illness.
The gala is usually a marathon of oldies doo-woppers and bands stretching their expiration dates. Previous balls featured Creedence Clearwater Revisited, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, The Turtles, The Spinners, and Little Richard. But this year’s headlining Doobies—still a successful summer touring unit—charged The Q Arena with vigor despite having churned out hits in five different decades.
Fronted by Dennis Edwards, The Temptations Review broke the ice with a parade of Motown hits including “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion,” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Clad in matching sequin green jackets and mint slacks, the five-man ensemble thrilled with syncopated dance steps and took turns singing lead. They were supported by an ace band consisting of drums, keys, bass, guitar, and brass.
In addition to Edwards, the Review consists of Mike Patillo, Chris Arnold, David Sea, and Paul Williams, Jr.—whose father was a founding Temptation.
Fans delighted to the opening chimes and “yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain of “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” and sang with classics “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” Edwards and the others worked up a sweat shuffling and shaking, but he took time out to recognize departed Temptations David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, and Williams.
Three Dog Night kept the crowd warm with a dozen ditties from their halcyon days in Los Angeles during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, such as “One Man Band,” “Shambala,” and “Black and White.” They even shoehorned a couple newer pieces in the mix, wowing with country-tinged jam “Heart of the Blues” and the amazing, Beach Boys-like a cappella “Prayer for the Children.”
Founders Danny Hutton and Cory Wells shared vocals while strumming acoustic guitars. Longtime guitarist Michael Allsup conjured searing leads from his Stratocasters as original keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon tickled the keys on a Kurzweil. Bassist Paul Kingery thumped along with drummer Paul Bautz’ strident beats on “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “Celebrate,” and “Joy to the World”—whose “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” opening line was echoed by nearly everyone in attendance.
The TDN set included three chart-toppers penned by songwriter Paul Williams (no relation to The Temptation), all handled deftly by Hutton: “Out in the Country,” “Family of Man,” and “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.” Wells closed his eyes while singing lead on the Harry Nilsson gem “One” and hit all its high notes without difficulty.
Hutton maintained levity with some self-deprecating humor, commenting that the stools brought out by stagehands for TDN’s acoustic medley were the result of a clause in their contract rider, added so the aging rockers could rest up mid-show.
“We’ve been on the rock charts, country charts, and rhythm and blues charts,” he observed. “Now we’re on the medical charts.”
Wells kept the jokes coming when announcing that the band was working on a brand new album.
“It’ll be out in 2035,” he said.
San Jose’s Doobie Brothers dazzled with 90 minutes of bluegrass-flavored folk and fuzz-toned hard rock dating from 1972’s Toulhouse Street and up to 2010’s World Gone Crazy. Anchored by veterans Tom Johnston and guitarist Pat Simmons, the octet hasn’t lost any chops since its ’69 inception.
Like The Allman Brothers and .38 Special, The Doobies boast not one but two capable drummers—Tony Pia and Ed Toth—whose movements mirrored one another throughout the night. One percussionist’s kick bass was decorated with the band’s vintage script while the other bore the modern, winged DB logo. Bassist John Cowan—who’s worked with Bela Fleck and Leon Russell—pinned down the rhythm and added high harmonies to Johnston and Simmons’ leads.
The guys led off with groove-rocker “Jesus Is Just Alright”—a curious opener on the anniversary of the only full day Christ spent dead—but a smoker nonetheless. “Rockin’ Down the Highway” segued into the DB’s memorable cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland track “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While),” from 1975’s Stampede. Keyboardist Guy Allison filled the sonic spectrum with chords and fills on a Roland A-90 and other synths, occasionally trading solo spots with soaring saxophonist Marc Russo.
John McFee—who’s been in the fold since ’79—is the DB’s resident Jack of all trades, a multi-instrumentalist who sat and plucked country twang from an ETS pedal steel for one song, strummed his Line 6 guitar on the next, and blew harmonica or bowed fiddle on others.
“Dependin’ On You” and “Eyes of Silver” were juxtaposed by the more recent “World Gone Crazy.” “Blackwater,” “South City Midnight Lady,” and “Long Train” zinged listeners back to the early Seventies. The band even performed the funky “Takin’ It to the Streets”—the title track from their first LP with Michael McDonald. Simmons fielded the first part of the verses then deferred to Cowan for the higher “You…telling me the things you’re gonna do for me” bits.
McDonald spent five years with The Doobies, filling in for Johnston 1976-1981 during an extended illness. The group realized several chart hits with the blue-eyed soul singer, including “Minute By Minute,” “What a Fool Believes,” and “Real Love.”
There was no barricade dividing band from crowd, so by encore “China Grove” The Doobies had people dancing against the very lip of the stage. The band welcomed The Temptations Review back to sing with them on finale “Listen to the Music,” sending even casual Tempts / TDN / Doobie fans home happy after a long night of “Wow! I forgot how many good songs they have!” moments.
Freed would have loved it. Cleveland certainly did.