Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. LIVE! at BergenPAC

Spotlight Central
Spotlight Central

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By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Music lovers inside Englewood, NJ’s BergenPAC this Sunday, April 14, 2024 evening wait for the start of a solid gold concert by legendary hitmakers Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., along with their special guest, Darlene Love.

After ten years as part of the vocal group, The 5th Dimension, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. branched off as a duo, scoring a #1 hit with “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” and going on to appear in living rooms across the country on The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. show and on TV’s Solid Gold.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love made a name for herself as a backup singer with artists including Sam Cooke, Sonny and Cher, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, and Tom Jones, and as the lead singer on recordings by The Blossoms and The Crystals before being featured in the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom.

Following a film focusing on her 60-year music career, Darlene Love, 82, takes the BergenPAC stage to enthusiastic applause. Backed by an eight-piece band and four background singers, Love opens her set with Steven Van Zandt’s “Among the Believers.”

Crying, “I remain among the believers!” Love’s voice is soulful and strong on this rocking number which features powerful rhythm section playing and precision background vocals.

The crowd applauds, and Love responds, “Good evening, everybody! I’m glad to be here,” before explaining, “We’re gonna do songs tonight that make me happy, so just enjoy yourself — because we will!” Sailing into a rousing medley of gospel tunes, Love and Co. impress on staples including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Down by the Riverside,” “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” and a spiritual rendering of “Oh, Happy Day” which has audience members joyfully singing and clapping along.

“Before we come on stage every night, I feel the need to pray; I pray that safety and peace will come to my audience,” reveals Love, prior to announcing, “This next song by Bill Withers is one of my favorites.” Starting out in her rich, low register, Love jumps an octave on “Lean On Me,” performing with ease and emotion as she’s deftly supported by her talented band and backup singers on a performance which inspires energetic applause.

Lamenting, “In 1963, I rose to fame singing ‘He’s a Rebel,’ but my name wasn’t on the record,” Love announces, “For tonight, we put together a medley of my songs.” Opening with “He’s a Rebel,” music lovers clap along as Love sings the song’s famous “He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be any good” refrain. After segueing into her ‘50s-style rocker, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” Darlene improvises on “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” and dances around on the instrumental break of her breezy pop tune, “Wait ’Til My Bobby Gets Home.” To conclude the medley, Love invites the audience to sing along on The Crystals’ ’60s smash, “Da Doo Ron Ron.”

Love reminds the crowd that she’s been in the music business for six decades and talks about being recognized for her work by Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. Audience members tap their toes and nod their heads as Darlene gives a dynamic rendition of one of her favorite Springsteen tunes, “Hungry Heart.” Love also reminisces about working with Elvis Presley on his 1968 comeback TV special and offers up a poignant tribute to The King with a sweet and emotional pairing of Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Darlene invites her backup singers center stage to perform a highlight number of her set, “Marvelous,” where soaring vocal harmonies ring out throughout the theater on this divine gospel number. The crowd stands and applauds and Love concludes her portion of the program with one of her favorite songs, “River Deep, Mountain High,” where music lovers sing and dance along to the mighty sound before she thanks the audience for their support exclaiming “God bless you!”

During intermission, concertgoers comment on Love’s performance tonight. Exclaims Jessica from Old Tappan, “I saw her years ago in New York City and seeing her here tonight 30 years later is wonderful — she’s phenomenal!” Jessica’s husband, Barry, agrees, declaring, “I can’t believe that her voice is as strong as it is at age 82,” prior to concluding, “She’s an amazing woman — an amazing talent — and I thank God we have her.”

Dennis from Hempstead, NY calls Love’s performance tonight, “Phenomenal, as usual,” explaining, “Her voice is incredible — there are few performers who can produce at this level at this point in their careers, and she’s only getting better and better.” Ian from Long Island concurs, asserting, “She’s fabulous! I haven’t seen her in ages — I saw her in concert probably in the 1990s — and she hasn’t changed a bit. Like with fine wine, her voice has only gotten better with age.”

Lastly, Kenny from New York City argues, “Darlene Love has never sung a bad note in her life! I’ve seen her in concert many times since the 1980s — I stopped counting, but it’s got to be at least 80 times — and she keeps getting better and better. Every time I see her, she just blows me away!”

Following intermission, the lights dim and a five-piece backup band along with three background vocalists appear on stage to perform The Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go.” After a video plays on screen showing Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. singing Wings’ “Silly Love Songs,” McCoo, 80, and Davis, Jr., 85, take the stage where they continue to sing “Silly Love Songs” in harmony with power and style to avid audience applause.

“Thank you very much!” responds Davis, Jr. as he, McCoo, and the trio of backup singers soar on a five-part vocal arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s 1967 hit for The 5th Dimension, “Up, Up and Away.”

Explaining that their next song, which was composed by Laura Nyro, gave The 5th Dimension their first million-seller, the five vocalists launch into 1968’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” where they soulfully sing, “Surry down to a stoned soul picnic,” capably supported by the McCoo/Davis, Jr. backup band.

Moving onto another Nyro-penned composition, McCoo jokes, “I’ve been singing this song to Billy for 50 years!” before crooning from the heart, “Bill/I love you so/I always will,” on the 1969 5th Dimension hit, “Wedding Bell Blues.”

The pair trades off singing lead as they perform their 1976 smash, “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show),” their familiar voices blending as one on the song’s famous “You don’t have to be a star, baby/To be in my show” chorus while audience members happily clap and sing along.

As video clips appear on the screen, McCoo and Davis sing the upbeat theme to the Solid Gold TV show. McCoo talks about her love of torch songs, acknowledging, “I got to sing one of the best all-time torch songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.” Emoting with power and feeling, McCoo knocks it out of the park performing her 1969 5th Dimension hit, “One Less Bell to Answer,” where she ends the song on a powerfully-produced high note to enthusiastic cheers and applause.

Davis, Jr. exclaims, “That was beautiful!” as he launches into a stellar rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” for Marilyn. McCoo follows up with a poignant interpretation of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” as images of black heroes including Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and others appear on the screen behind her.

Davis, Jr. follows up with a slow gospel-inspired rendition of The Beatles’ “Help,” and the pair concludes their selection of Beatles’ songs with “And I Love Her,” where they hold hands and look into each other’s eyes as they sing to one another before changing the final lyric from “and I love her” to “and I love you.” Shifting gears, McCoo and Davis, Jr. get the crowd moving to the groove of Ashford and Simpson’s “Solid,” singing with soul and conviction on the infectious “Solid/Solid as a rock/That’s what this love is/That’s what we’ve got” refrain.

To conclude tonight’s show, McCoo, Davis, Jr., and Co. perform The 5th Dimension’s 1969 smash from the musical, Hair, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.”

Lights flash over the crowd as music lovers joyfully sing and swing on the song’s famous “Let the sunshine in” chorus before McCoo and Davis, Jr. take a bow and exit the stage to huge applause.

As concertgoers make their way out of the BergenPAC auditorium, several comment on Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.’s performance tonight. Exclaims Linda from Wood-Ridge, “I thought Marilyn and Billy were awesome; they sounded amazing tonight!” Her friend, Nancy from Wood-Ridge, agrees, adding, “Their show was fabulous — I loved it — except I wish it had gone on even longer!”

Marie from Tenafly remarks, “I especially loved it when Marilyn sang, ‘One Less Bell to Answer.’ I never really thought of it as a torch song, but she was on fire when she did that one tonight! I also loved it when Billy sang ‘When A Man Loves a Woman’ to Marilyn — his voice was so powerful and he performed with such emotion. Lastly, when they sang “And I Love Her” to one another, my heart just melted. I’m a sucker for a love story and theirs is a true love story.”

Fannie from Englewood remarks, “I saw Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. for the first time a few years ago at their Christmas show in New Jersey. They were great then, and they were great tonight, too!” prior to acknowledging, “I grew up listening to The 5th Dimension so all of those songs really brought me back, but I also enjoyed the Beatles’ tunes they performed. Their interpretation of ‘Blackbird’ was very moving. I admire the way they took that song and used it to make a social statement. Kudos to them.”

Constance from Lorton, VA explains, “I love Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. — they’re just a beautiful couple. Their love is so pure — you can see it and feel it — plus, I know all their songs and they all brought back great memories.” Her friend, Joanne from Clifton, concurs, explaining, “Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. brought back so many memories with their own songs tonight, and I loved it when they sang The Beatles’ songs, too; what a great job they did!” before concluding, “Even after all these years, they still sound phenomenal — I thought I was listening to a record!”

To learn more about Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., please go to mccoodavis.com. For more info on Darlene Love, please click on darleneloveworld.com. For information about upcoming performances at BergenPAC — including Buddy Guy’s Damn Right Farewell Tour on May 9, Paul Anka’s Seven Decade Tour on June 3, and Engelbert Humperdinck’s The Last Waltz Tour on June 13 — please click on bergenpac.org.

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