The Cincinnati Pops never knew it could rock, but on Sunday it did – with a little help from Steven Reineke and a quartet of soul-singing gents called Spectrum. As the sequin-jacketed group strolled and crooned through the Motown charts – including The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Four Tops and the O’Jays – the Pops audience sang along, hooted and whooped. By the end – a roof-raising encore of “Soul Man” – some were even dancing in the “dance pit.” Spectrum, which played until recently on the Las Vegas Strip, headlined the first of a new Pops series, "Pops Remix," led by associate conductor Reineke. Slick and engaging, their tribute to 50 years of Motown Records had all the familiar moves and great vocal arrangements to hits like “Oo, Baby, Baby,” “Under the Boardwalk” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.”
It was a fun, high-energy evening, and Music Hall’s stage was given a new, high-tech look. Lighting helped create part of the magic. The Pops musicians, usually in red blazers, were seated on a dark stage, wearing black against a black star curtain, sort of like a 100-piece rock band. The orchestra, fronted by Spectrum’s four-piece band, was entirely amplified. It sounded uneven, but improved in the second half. The singers – Darryl Grant, Pierre Jovan, David Prescott and Cushney Roberts – came out in sparkly velvet tuxes to the Temps’ “Get Ready.” Prescott’s high falsetto was an asset in tunes such as Smokey Robinson’s “Oo, Baby, Baby” and the Temps’ “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” which included a vocal cadenza into the stratosphere. Founding member Roberts sang baritone lead and acted as emcee, propelling the show along with banter and occasionally leaping off the stage into the audience. It was, as he said, a trip down memory lane, and by the time they got to that Motown anthem, “My Girl,” the audience was primed to sing every word. One of the evening’s highlights was a tribute to Cincinnati’s King Records, and also to a local legend, Philip Paul, a session drummer at King Records, who played on the original recordings of more than 350 songs, from country to rhythm and blues. Paul, who has played professionally for 60 years, sat in on “It’s a Man’s World” by James Brown (one of the many stars he played with) during a slide show about the label founded by Syd Nathan in 1943. Reineke gave a nod to the ladies of Motown with an orchestra medley of Diana Ross tunes, and included a splashy “On Broadway,” a reference to his new job as music director of the New York Pops. His conducting during the Motown show was seamless and he is a stylish leader on the podium. His other two "Pops Remix” shows will feature the music of Jim Brickman and Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon.