By Jacqueline Monahan
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The New Stylistics Bring Old School to Clarion Hotel & Casino

The first YouTube video I sought out after finally getting the website to run on my PC was The Stylistics original version of their hit “You Are Everything”.  Now, in the audience for the December 1 media night presentation of The New Stylistics at the Clarion Hotel & Casino (formerly The Greek Isles), I wondered what my ears would encounter.  Could original lead singer Russell Thompkins, Jr. pull off a nostalgic return to the mellow ballads (highlighted by his own elegant falsetto) that were branded in fans’ memories?

Your humble correspondent would have to wait a little longer to find out.

Inside the Clarion Showroom, with its black walls and tables, red velvet booths, and a stage that spans the entire width of the venue, the evening began with comedian Geechy Guy, dressed like an Amish intellectual; slight beard, but no mustache, glasses, and endearingly clumsy hairstyle.

Geechy Guy
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

The self-deprecating comic combines an organic nebbish-ness with awkward cleverness to create an atmosphere for “groan”-ups.  Many of his jokes result in one, but he’s an audience favorite nonetheless.

Example:  “My eyes were bothering me so I went to an optimist.  He said, “You’re gonna be just fine.”  Then there’s “I found out I have a lot in common with gay men.  We both have the same amount of sex with women.”

Guy appears nightly at 10:00 p.m. in The Dirty Jokes Show at Hooters Hotel & Casino.

When the New Stylistics hit the stage, preceded by their talented seven-piece band, it was readily apparent that Russell Thompkins Jr. possessed a remarkable ability to transcend four decades and create the same kind of vocal magic with his famous falsetto (intact, by the way) that catapulted the original Stylistics to multi-hit fame in the 70’s.

Russell Thompkins Jr.
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

The Stylistics
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

The group is now a trio.  In addition to Thompkins, the New Stylistics feature backup singers Raymond Johnson and Jonathan Buckson.  The pair bookend Thompkins’ voice and provide an interactive connection to the audience.

Thompkins delivers the signature Stylistics sound but maintains an emotional distance from his fans, although he can step to the beat on some of the more upbeat numbers.  On many occasions he sings with closed eyes, as if it takes every bit of his concentration to hit those high notes.  The resulting falsetto is its own reward.

The band is known as the Stylistics Orchestra and includes a brass section in addition to keyboards, drums, and guitars.  Together they augment the string of hits that the New Stylistics deliver, matching the enthusiasm and sheer joy of performance that Buckson and Johnson radiate.

Performing many of their hits, including "Stop, Look, Listen,” "You Are Everything,” "Break Up to Make Up," "Stone In Love With You", “People Make the World Go Round.” And “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” “Betcha By Golly Wow,” the group’s performance sent the audience on very personal trips down memory lane.

For example, the bittersweet “Break Up to Make Up” caused one woman in the audience to wipe a tear from her eye.  My long-awaited favorite, “You are Everything” delivered an admirably faithful rendition by Thompkins, hampered a bit by a jazz-up horn accompaniment.  Still, a nearby couple grasped hands when they heard it.  Thompkins dedicated his own personal favorite, “Betcha By Golly Wow” “to all of the lovers in the room.”

The original Stylistics formed in Philadelphia in 1968.  Although Thompkins is the sole founding member of the group, all three of the New Stylistics hail from the City of Brotherly Love, maintaining the soulful sound like a solemn promise to their fans.  The New Stylistics were formed by Thompkins in 2004 and have toured continually since then.

Other numbers performed by the three men in dark suits and shiny, metallic patterned jackets included the upbeat, fast-paced “Rockin’ Roll Baby” the contemplative “Right as Rain,” a Carole King cover of “Too Late” and the Dionne Warwick hit “You’ll Never Get To Heaven” that the group charted with in 1972.

The last song of the evening, sung as an appropriate encore to the audience, was “You Make Me Feel Brand New.”  Most of the material, after all, was over 30 years old, but the appreciative audience delighted in the chance to revisit an era that the group maintained with a remarkable ease.

Take a tip from Thompkins and close your eyes to savor it.

Performances Wednesday through Sunday @ 8:00 p.m.

For further information:

Clarion Hotel & Casino
305 Convention Center Drive
Las Vegas, Nevada
(7020 463-8186