The 5th Dimension
While in line at the Saban Theatre (formerly the Wilshire Theatre) for the 5th Dimension concert Saturday night, I was joined by a crowd of mostly baby boomers in their 50s and 60s, who, like myself, grew up listening to this group in the late 1960s and ’70s. I wondered if this performance would be tailored for this age group given that most of their hits happened in that time period. Little did I know that we were about to be taken “Up, Up and Away” on a raucous ride full of not only hits by the 5th Dimension, but an evening full of gospel, blues and classic American songs fit for any age and time.
Starting in 1963, the original group was known as the Hi-Fi’s and included Lamonte McLemore, Marilyn McCoo, Harry Elston and Floyd Butler. In late 1966, Billy Davis, Jr., Ron Townson and Florence LaRue joined (after Elston and Floyd departed), and the name was changed to the 5th Dimension. Now headed by original member LaRue, this latest incarnation includes Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris and Floyd Smith, who are all top notch singers in their own right.
The opening two songs of the set were “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire and “My Girl” by the Temptations, followed by two of their early hits “Up, Up and Away” written by Jimmy Webb and “Wedding Bell Blues” written by Laura Nyro. Backed by a four-piece band that included piano, keyboard, bass and drums, the singing group sported elegant black attire – with the exception of LaRue, who came out in a beautiful red dress and matching red shoes. This early series of songs was performed with beautiful vocal power, full of gospel energy.
A unique aspect of a 5th Dimension performance is the informal, personal and intimate manner that LaRue and her mates deal with their audience. We are all their friends, enjoying songs such as “The Worst That Could Happen” (another Webb composition), “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” and “Never My Love,” which was sung by LaRue in a rich, powerful, gospel-tinted voice while sitting in what resembled a giant living room. The song “We Are Family,” which followed, summed up this sentiment.
One of my favorite portions of the evening was a series of songs that took the theme of “rain” to string them all together in the gorgeous vocal sounds of the group or as soloists. They included songs such as “It’s Raining Men,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” “I Cant Stand the Rain,” “Fire and Rain” and ended with a superb rendition of “Stormy Weather” by the incomparable LaRue.
The evening closed with two of the most anticipated songs by the 5th Dimension, “One Less Bell to Answer” (penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) sung beautifully by LaRue and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which is actually a two-song medley from the 1967 musical “Hair.” The latter not only got the audience to their feet dancing, but it brought an unexpected surprise when former members McCoo and Davis, Jr., who were in the audience, came on stage for the song to raucous applause and cheers from everyone.
The very satisfying evening began with two warmup acts. First came the J.T. Manning band, featuring singer-songwriter James Manning whose country/blues compositions were mixed with classics like “Brick House” and “Easy” by the Commodores. The band featured a very talented and young lead guitarist on one end with an older member on drums that could show any beginning player a thing or two.
The second opening act, Gina Graham and the Oozie Blues Show band, rocked the house with their fresh takes on classic blues songs. A native of Pennsylvania, Graham sported a red-hot dress and matching shoes while belting out blues standards like “Proud Mary,” “Knock on Wood” and “Stand By Me” with an intensity and sensuality that would make Tina Turner proud. Backing her up was a group of very talented, seasoned blues veterans that made you feel like you were in some small club in the middle of the rural south.