Vocalist Quiana Parler belts it out at Tonik during That '70s Soul Show
Fridays and Saturdays through June 5
479 King St.
The grand opening of the new King Street watering hole known as Tonik Club was originally to feature a sneak preview of the newly-assembled musical revue That '70s Soul Show in mid-March. An expected alcohol permit was delayed by a bureaucratic snafu, though, and proprietor Lawson Roberts didn't see any point in opening without booze, so the entire project was put on a two-week hold.
Eventually, on Thurs., March 30, with everything finally in place, the Tonik Club staff literally rolled the red carpet past the sidewalk construction zone and out into King Street for the official opening. With the loungy furnishings, it definitely felt more plush and luxurious than the usual downtown rock venue.
During the first of two sets, vocalists Quiana Parler (best known in town for her appearance on TV's American Idol, her work on several Clay Aiken tours, and last year's That '60s Soul Show), Dudley Birch (also of That '60s Soul Show), Jeremy Baucomb, and Amanda Morris stood and swayed in tight formation at the front of the long and narrow stage during the band's opening number, an Earth, Wind & Fire medley of "Let's Groove," "After The Love Has Gone," and "September." It was strong, brassy start to a velvety smooth set.
Trumpeter Chuck Dalton and sax player John Philips stood at mid-stage while the rhythm section of keyboardist and musical director Taras Kovayl, guitarist Paul Gelpi, drummer Ivan Singleton, and bassist Kevin Hamilton stayed in tight formation at the window-end of the stage. Singleton and Hamilton were particularly together, locking in on subtle accents, fills, and flourishes.
After the opener, Morris stepped out front for lead vocal duty on "Ain't Nobody" by Chaka Khan while the other three singers exited the stage to a side table, microphones in hand. They took turns stepping in and out of the spotlight at stage front. Birch, the sharpest-dressed cat in the group, tackled Lou Rawls' "Lady Love" with a grinning confidence and a series of slow-groovin' moves. Parler followed with a peppery rendition of Natalie Cole's "This Will Be." She almost stole the show with her elegant delivery and strong-voiced performance.
It seemed odd to hear the three-part harmonies through the P.A. without the whole team on stage, but they looked cool and casual enough in the candlelight at their off-stage spot, singing into their wireless mics between sips of bottled water and cocktails. Even more peculiar were the between-song announcements introducing each song.
The tall-standing Jeremy Baucomb probably looked the most out of place among the four singers — more of a "dapper hippie clubgoer" than a veteran soul man — but he stepped up with his own reserved but tuneful rendition of the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' it to the Streets," replete with enough rasp and huff to rival that of Michael McDonald. The entire vocal frontline joined him at the conclusion for a surprise "gospel rave-up" — one of many embellishments of the show.
Morris boogied and twisted during her turn with the Rose Royce disco classic "Car Wash." The button-nose singer belted it out mighty fine.
Other highlights included Birch's finger-snapping performance during a version of George Benson's "Turn Your Love Around" and Parler's upbeat delivery on "Feel Like Makin' Love" by Roberta Flack.
Obviously, the posh and polished delivery of That '70s Soul Show isn't aiming to entertain the younger rock 'n' urban set, most of whom would find it square and cheesy. The targeted audience is more sophisticated. While it's one thing to arrange, rehearse, and perform a set list or two of Motown and classic soul songs and popular disco tunes, it's another to execute it with such a polished gleam.