Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisThe name Richard Street is synonymous with the motor city music scene, dipping way back in the day to Detroit doo-woppers The Distants. Formed in 1955, the group also included Otis Williams and Street's cousin Melvin Franklin, all of whom would eventually sing in The Temptations. Come 1959, the hopeful formed The Monitors and was hired four years later by Barry Gordy as a quality control producer for Motown Records. As artists like The Miracles, The Supremes, The Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye sprung up, Street was right by their side and working with the movement first hand. He eventually entered the front lines himself when The Temptations underwent a line-up overhaul in the early 1970s, which started with the departures of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks for solo careers, along with Paul Williams as he battled alcoholism. With Street's previous experience at the label and the group being at the crossroads of a decade switch, The Temptations earned a psychedelic soul facelift at his expense and found extremely successful footing throughout the decade's remainder.
When Street showed up at St. Charles' gorgeously renovated Arcada Theatre with four slightly younger backers, he not only radiated the vibe of a legend, but followed up with a remarkable performance that was literally like watching history unfold before attendees' very eyes. Rather than coming across like a tired oldies act or an indifferent elder statesmen, Street and his crew delivered with vigor and vivaciousness, retracing the most prominent steps of his twenty plus years leading The Temptations, a handful of that group's early hits and other Motown memories. The quintet got the crowd standing from the get go thanks to the sunny classic "The Way You Do the Things You Do," followed by an absolutely riveting version of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." Hearing Street's signature voice with the piecing bass ripple blew away more modern versions by the likes of Queen or Seal and demonstrated why the originator remains superior.
Though the five piece-backing band couldn't measure up to the utopia of The Funk Brothers (Motown's mainstay house band who backed The Temptations before and during Street's reign) they were still competitive and cohesive throughout the equally meaty "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)." Again, this selection was a textbook example of The Temptations' reinvention, which was also underscored by a period of more socially conscious lyrics. Yet come the snappy swing of "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me") the theme of blissful love took center stage and reminded all of the tracks' rarely rivaled endurance.
Outside of the group's scope, a handful of covers captured the sprit of the retro era, particularly the quintessential Sam Cooke pair "Chain Gang" and "Cupid." Despite reaching a bit beyond his range, Street satisfied with the praise of the departed legend. He also tipped his hat to the more recently deceased crooner Luther Vandross during an inspiring rendition of "So Amazing." Again, it was a bit higher than his register allowed and was perhaps a bit too lofty to try, but thanks to his supporting singers, the tribute was still respectful. The mid-set portion also paved the way for some storytelling, including several delectable tidbits about the artists with whom this singer was associated. "I had Stevie Wonder on my knee when he was nine and I had Michael Jackson on my knee when he was ten," Street said. "I went with Diana Ross for three years when we were still signing on the streets."
Such recollections also brought Street back to The Temptations early days to interpret gems like "I Wish It Would Rain," an extremely moving track that was penned by a heartbroken writer who took his life right around the original recording sessions. Thankfully "My Girl" immediately lightened up the mood and came with carefree dancing and glowing harmonies. The grand finale was the immortal "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," which dipped and dashed between vocalists and even slicker step and spins. With a carefully coordinated bow, some kisses to the crowd and a standing ovation, Street's treatment of The Temptations was hearty and inspiring from start to finish and properly preserved its renowned legacy.
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