ATLANTIC CITY - The Delfonics, accompanied by musical director Bill Jolly and a 25-piece soul-'n'-strings orchestra, delighted a sold-out crowd at the Borgata Event Center on Saturday night.
Sublime renditions such as the Delfonics' 1970 hit "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time?)" brought precious memories to the musicians and listeners gathered for "Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia."
"Love Train" was billed as "a historic live concert" to showcase the greatest music and musicians in the Philadelphia International Records catalog, including Teddy Pendergrass, Jerry Butler, Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, the Intruders, the O'Jays, Bunny Sigler, G.C. Cameron, the Soul Survivors, Jean Carne, Russell Thompkins Jr. & the New Stylistics, and the Three Degrees.
"It was like one big family reunion for everybody backstage, former labelmates. We were all there," Carne said later in an interview. "It was such a time of happiness, we were hugging and taking pictures and remembering those who were not with us like Lou Rawls and [Gene] McFadden and [John] Whitehead, who wrote 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now' - folks who were very influential in the sound of Philadelphia, which is the soundtrack of our lives."
A major highlight was Pendergrass' rendition of "Close the Door" and "Turn Off the Lights" from his wheelchair. "His voice has just really gotten stronger and bigger," Carne said.
The performers offered a frequently thrilling show that will be packaged as a TV special and broadcast during a December pledge drive for PBS. Sony Legacy Recordings will offer a companion DVD celebrating music producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The Philadelphia Records International founders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year by way of the new Ahmet Ertegun Award honoring nonperformers.
When radio personality Jerry Blavat explained that a song needed to be repeated for the taping, the crowd roared its approval. Founding member William "Poogie" Hart regrouped his Delfonics for another excursion into the 1968 classic "La-La (Means I Love You)."
At more than four hours, the show included a few other do-overs. Against a slide-show backdrop of vintage Sigma Sound Studio photos, album covers, and Philadelphia scenes, the artists delivered such hits as the Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again?" and a feisty Jerry Butler singing "Only the Strong Survive."
Another welcome encore was the all-hands-on-deck finale of the O'Jays' "Love Train," which brought Eddie Levert trading strong leads with the irrepressible Sigler, Philly's perennially underrated singer-arranger who earlier had scored with his assertive take on Billy Paul's smash "Me and Mrs. Jones."