As the five members of The Temptations Review with Dennis Edwards performed the 1965 hit “Don’t Look Back,” they seemed to be contradicting themselves. The concert attendees packing the New Haven Green proved that the past is not always, as the song says, behind you.
The free concert took place Saturday as part of the summer Music on the Green series, with an estimated 9,080 attendees beginning to stake out spots with chairs and blankets for hours before the 7 p.m. opening notes. As Mayor Toni Harp gave her opening remarks, the sun pushed its way through the overcast so that the flashy blue suits of the band members shone all the more brightly when they took the stage.
They sounded just like the original Temptations—but they weren’t. They hit the right notes, though, which seemed to be the point for most listeners, whether they compared the experience to “seeing Elvis” or they simply closed their eyes to let their ears travel back in time.
Perhaps it is not surprising that none of the five original members of the Temptations are in The Temptations Review; the Motown group did start producing music over 50 years ago, in 1964. But led by Dennis Edwards, who took over for original lead singer David Ruffan in 1968, the band played a range of Temptations songs spanning the group’s different iterations: including “Don’t Look Back” (1965), “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1972) and the group’s 1995 version of “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Rather than become heavy with nostalgia, Edwards and the four other band members — Chris Arnold, Mike Pattillo, David Sea and Paul Williams Jr., — embraced the past with energy and, at times, humor. Four of the performers, for example, drew laughter from the crowd by deserting the soloist during a song to sit down with water bottles, visibly tired, instead.
“I’m 71 years old and I can still do this thing, y’all,” Edwards said, to roars from the audience towards the end of the set. His reflection later turned somber when he asked the audience to remember the four original Temptations members who have passed away.
The “Real” Temptations?
The audience consisted of plenty of families with children and young adults, but the crowd appeared, on the whole, mature. When asked whether they were fans of The Temptations, many attendees said they have been for decades, since they were children.
So The New Haven Independent sought to find whether these longtime fans, and other attendees, considered The Temptations Review to be the “real” Temptations. Here are a few of their responses:
“Hopefully it is, hopefully it is. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m dressed. I’ve been a fan forever.” — Robert Williams, Bridgeport.
“My parents are [Temptations fans]. We just came for the concert, I don’t know. We don’t know the history behind it.” — Jackie (and Marco) Rosario.
“You’ll have to ask the people who put out the concert exactly the affiliation with The Temptations. If you have any police-related questions, we’ll be happy to answer them.” — Lt. Jeff Hoffman, New Haven (center).
“In my opinion, I’d say that for tonight’s event, it’s The Temptations. The Temptations are here in spirit.” — Lt. Julie Johnson, New Haven (right).
“... It’s The Temptations experience.” — Hoffman.
“It’s definitely an act that this community doesn’t get to see. A lot of these people grew up on this music and never got a chance to see these guys in their prime, so it’s a good night to come out just to experience that music from the past.” — Lt. Makiem Miller, New Haven (left).
“No, this is not the Temptations. No, no, no, no. They’re dead and gone. Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffan are gone. But it’s a style, you get to see the 1960s and ‘70s. Great harmony.” — John Scafariello, New Haven (left).
“This is like seeing Elvis.” — Dominic Cassanova, New Haven (right).
“I loved [The Temptations] back in the day ... Otis Williams and the rest of the crew, they were great. But they’re just as great [now] ... They sound the same. I guess old people died and new people came in, but their voices are very good.” — Lois Tanner, Westville.
“I didn’t realize it was The Temptations Review, I thought it was the original Temptations. They’d have to be 80 years old….The internet said it was the real Temptations.” — Christy Verrelli, Milford (right).
“We enjoy their music very much so we’re looking forward to hearing their music.” — Eileen Vernik, Milford (left).
“Well, I’m sure they’ll do a good job. The real Temptations would probably have a hard time doing it right now.” — Sister Mary Ellen Burns, New Haven.
“Well, what is the real Temptations? If it was the real Temptations they’d be what, 80 years old now? No .. it’s the songs, a whole lot of them, that really count. People don’t live forever; they’re not forever young.” — Mark Cherry, New Haven.