Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Once In A Life Time - Legends Live: Wembley Arena 25/06/09
Once In A Life Time - Legends Live: Wembley Arena 25/06/09 Once In A Lifetime - Legends Live: Wembley Arena 25/06/09 (Ticket)

When Martha Reeves and her sisters walked on stage they brought Wembley to its feet. The welcome was deafening and the air filled with love for this Motown legend.

With a band that could easily have taken lessons from the Funk Brothers themselves, Martha launched into a fiery performance that had us dancing, clapping and singing with her, while Lois and Delphine were superb support singers who also engaged in spirited dialogue with their sister upfront. Kicking in with 'Heatwave' – appropriate for this hot and balmy night in London town - she swiftly moved to our old favourite 'Jimmy Mack' while explaining he must now be at least pensionable age if not more! A quiet moment was taken while Martha sang snatches of 'In My Lonely Room' and 'No-one There' to herself before launching into a dynamic version of 'Nowhere To Run'. A light hearted introduction which included the acts who’d recorded cover versions of the song everyone screamed for - 'Dancing In The Street'. Motown’s eternal anthem! Wow! We were gone; every care and inhibition abandoned for a few moments of real, authentic Motown magic.

Opening a show like this isn’t the best place to be, but Jr Walker’s Allstars, after starting with a low keyed 'Shake And Fingerpop' soon got into their stride as they shifted gear into the funky Motown classics like 'Roadrunner' and “'How Sweet It Is' before changing the mood with 'What Does It Take To Win Your Love'. The passing of Jr Walker left a huge gap in music; his expertise as a saxophonist and composer helped shape Motown’s history. By closing their act with 'Shotgun', the guys proved they were more than a warm up act. The Miracles followed, with the only original member Bobby Rogers hobbling to the stage due to a recent operation on his foot before spending the entire performance perched on a seat where he joined in the choreography from his waist up. It was a great thrill to see him and wish him a speedy recovery. Starting the act with 'The Tears Of A Clown', an instant winner with the audience naturally, as we sang and danced along. Moving into the smooth 'I Second That Emotion' and a slow and soulful 'The Tracks Of My Tears' the new Miracles Tee Turner exchanged lead vocals with Mark Scott on Smokey Robinson’s classics. A beat-y, grooving 'Going To A Go-Go' led into 'Love Machine', the only big hit enjoyed by the Smokey-less group.

In a flurry of yellow and red and to the strains of 'Love Child' Mary Wilson strode on stage, supported by two singers. They quickly moved into Diana Ross and the Supremes’ million sellers like 'My World Is Empty Without You', 'Can’t Hurry Love', 'Come See About Me' and 'Reflections' among others. She reflected on the ghost tour of 1965 before inviting members of the audience onstage to groove with her band while she left stage for a quick gown change – from red to black. She returned with more Diana Ross and the Supremes songs before losing the momentum entirely with the "new" Supremes 'Bad Weather'. She then changed the pace again by taking a step into the movie 'Dreamgirls' to sing a powerful interpretation of 'I Am Changing'. Unfortunately, Mary was the first artist to experience sound problems and as the show progressed it got worse until 'Someday We’ll Be Together' closed the set.

A short interval led to the magnificent Commodores introduction on stage. Excitement built with a cacophony of pyrotechnics but all was spoilt by overloud, noises and distorted music which accompanied the three group members – Clyde Orange, JD Nicholas and Wak King – as they danced and gyrated on stage for the first time with the Mean Machine as support. Without doubt these guys know how to party but during the funkier interludes it was a musical nightmare trying to distinguish vocals from bass lines. The guys used every inch of the stage to funk and grind particularly during one of their opening numbers 'I Feel Sanctified' and the following 'Brick House' (a remix version is now available) and 'Machine Gun' . From the beat, they turned to the ballads - those wonderful, immortal tunes that swayed the world like 'Easy', 'Sail On', 'Still' and 'Three Times A Lady' which JD sang to his mum who was in the audience. The musical melee that seemed to dominate this set was so distracting I found it difficult to concentrate through 'Sweet Love' and 'Lady (You Bring Me Up)'. Having seen these guys perform before, I know how magnificent they can be, but tonight I felt sorry for them. However, when 'Nightshift' was introduced I then realised why I had stood my ground and stayed in the auditorium.

Summing up then. I have three gripes about the show itself. The sound factor of course, but the lack of an emcee only exaggerated the chaos of intervals between acts which was messy. And thirdly, that all the artists failed to return to the stage in fine Motown Revue tradition to accept the audience’s thanks and praise. (I later realised that as some of the acts had already left the building this would have been difficult but we have standards in the UK don’t we? An aside here. When Ian Levine presented his Motorcity acts on stage in London, the Motown tradition was followed to the letter and the audiences devoured every minute). On a strictly personal note now, I’ve always had a hard time accepting group members taking the role of lead singers. For instance, it doesn’t sit right with me that JD sings Lionel’s ballads. And this makes Martha Reeves all the more refreshing because she’s a Motown original.

With special thanks to Gerry Constable.

Sadly no photos this time due to promoter constraints.

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