The group that birthed instant classics like “Brick House,” “Three Times a Lady” and “Night Shift,” may be relegated in 2010 to afternoon gigs at race tracks and casinos, but don’t let that fool you.
The Commodores were the real deal when they came together more than 40 years ago as young men in Tuskegee, Alabama, and they are certainly the real deal now.
Their Saturday, Jan. 2 performance at the Magic City Casino in Miami offered solid proof that after four decades of making music, an active tour schedule and the departure of their popular lead singer, these men haven’t lost any love for what they do or the chops that led to over 60 million records sold.
Saturday’s show included crowd favorites “Easy,” “Still,” “Three Times a Lady,” “Machine Gun,” “Sail On” and the timeless jam, “Brick House.”
Two songs into their energetic, smoothly choreographed set of oldies but goodies, and I asked myself, “Lionel who?”
Lionel Richie’s departure and ceaseless rumors of a Commodores reunion are apparently a touchy subject for the group. The very first paragraph on their website informs fans who anticipated the group’s post-Richie demise that The Commodores did not garner the music industry’s highest honor until 1986, three years after Richie left.
The group won their only Grammy for “Nightshift,” a loving ode to late performers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. Saturday’s performance of the song (which is still in rotation on many R & B radio stations) was flawless, with impeccable harmonizing and the very moving inclusion of Michael Jackson as part of the song’s tribute.
The message that The Commodores do just fine without Richie is clear on the site, but even clearer at their live performances. The group is awesome. In addition to packing a smooth vocal punch and moving like men half their ages, each of the three singers is also an accomplished musician.
Walter “Clyde” Orange was the group’s original drummer and co-lead singer with Richie. After Richie left the group in 1983, according to the group’s official website, Clyde shifted his focus from the drums to vocals, although he still gives the audience a taste of his masterful drumming during live shows.
“We’ve been together for 41 years, and I hope that we can do it for another 41 years,” he exclaimed.
With a show as tight and entertaining as Saturday’s, the group could probably use a savvy marketing guru to help inform the world that the Commodores still have “it.”
While Richie’s replacement, London born James Dean “JD” Nicholas’ voice has a similar tone and range, his delivery is uniquely his own. A consummate performer, JD’s charming stage presence endears him to the audience.
His comparable sound may have been a factor in his selection from over 50 candidates over 25 years ago – a selection that proved significant when it became necessary for the group to digitally create all new versions of the Commodores classic hits in the early ‘90s. (Motown refused to grant the group master use licenses for their planned greatest hits CDs.)
Rounding out the trio is William “Wak” King, virtually a one-man band. Playing the trumpet, keyboard and guitar, the energetic King also serves as the group’s choreographer. Also an original Commodore, King hasn’t missed a beat and shows no signs of slowing down.
This group is akin to old school, but includes still-relevant performers such as Charlie Wilson and Ron Isley, who – with the help of youthful producers – keep cranking out music that crosses generations.
Under the guidance of hit makers such as Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, The Commodores could very well be one CD away from a major comeback.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Walter "Clyde" Orange of The Commodores.