The Magic of Motown (Revue)
9th December 2015
As a music snob I pretty much avoid concerts that don’t feature musicians playing their own music; but tonight I made an exception as most of the artists being showcased tonight are dead; and even the ones who are still alive and kicking; are unlikely to play their early material in this format ever again; plus Mrs. Magpie wanted to go and who am I to deny her a night out?
With my snobbery coming to the fore quite early on I had mixed emotions when I realised that there must have been 1,500 fans in the venue and they certainly covered all age groups although 80% or more were female.
As the house lights dimmed the backing band took their positions with military precision in the shadows and immediately began strumming the intro to Papa was a Rolling Stone. As the stage slowly lit up three pretty black girls in sparkly dresses entered from Stage left and did a dance routine around some chairs; then as the tempo built up four guys in matching cream linen suits marched on from Stage right and with perfect harmony ripped the Hell out of the song itself and the first of the dancers made their way to the aisles.
With hardly any time to catch your breath they seamlessly drifted into Love Train and there must have been 100 or more women dancing around the venue; which is virtually unheard of this early at a Sage concert.
But as several singers kept reminding us; this was PAAAAARRRTTTY TIME!
With amazing stagecraft the three girls and two guys left the stage leaving a trio to regale us with a faultless rendition of I Can’t Help Myself; and although I was photographing at the front; even I have to admit to shaking my hips a bit more than was professionally necessary.
My obligatory ‘three songs/no flash’ was over in a smidgen over 7 minutes; and I was kicking myself because as I took my seat two of the female singers were cavorting to the strains of I’m Coming Out and thirty seconds later a mini-Diana strolled out and blasted her lungs out as perhaps 400 were now on their feet.
This was followed by the same girl singing Why Do Fools Fall in Love? You could tell she was giving it her all; but her voice was a bit too far down in the mix; but no one apart from me appeared to care or notice. The audience were in their element pretending to be transported back to the Harlem Apollo at some time in their teenage years (even the younger ones.)
With nary a wave the girls made their way off Stage Left and were replaced by three guys and the lead gave us a semi-decent version of What’s Going On and the sound-man quickly rectified the problem; making the singer sound velvety smooth.?
Okay, the girl playing the Diana role wore a bigger afro wig than the other two; but at no stage was anyone trying to imitate the originals and during the next; and eighth song of the evening This Old Heart of Mine; I finally took the time to sit back and ‘review’ the action after. The tempo of events was amazing; with no time to stop and think with the show being 2 parts Vegas Revue, 1 part Pantomime and another 2 parts West End Musical.
The songs came thick and fast; How Sweet It Is, Stop in The Name of Love and a glorious version of the Supremes’ Heatwave standing out; but it was actually the two Gladys Knights songs that were the highlight of the first act, especially a spellbinding Midnight Train (to Georgia).
Another ‘highlight’ was when the guys harmonised like a choir on Rolling Down the River; plus the two-tone suits they had changed into looked amazing and made me as jealous as sin.
While I had already been seat-dancing I finally gave in during Reach Out and dragged Mrs. Magpie into the aisle for a proper dance! Yes; me…..dancing in public, at my age!
Part one lasted exactly sixty minutes and 20 songs covering nearly 50 years of the finest record label the World has known ending with Loco in Acapulco.
During the break I took note of the audience who didn’t appear to be regular attendees at this prestigious venue. There were Hen Parties enjoying a pre-Christmas night out, families that must have included three generations and happy loving couples re-living their youth (me and Mrs. Magpie included); plus the dress code was ‘party to the Max’ with more glitter and cleavage on show than is good for a man my age.
Part 2 opened with the girls back in Supremes mode; starting with Ain’t No Mountain followed immediately by the guys with the Temptations Get Ready; both note perfect and full of intricate dance moves. I was seriously impressed by the quality of everything on show; including the costumes (so far).
The next half hour went past in a blur, with Ain’t Too Proud to Beg being a sultry showstopper all on its own; and You Can’t Hurry Love knocked the Phil Collins version into a cocked hat!
A minute into the Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie classic Endless Love I felt Mrs. Magpie grip my hand; when I turned to look I saw tears running down her cheeks. My memory of the song will be different to hers though as; just as the girl took a deep breath for the big finale someone went Aaaaagggh and she actually laughed; much to everyone’s amusement; but she continued and they finished the song like troupers and received a standing ovation. It was that type of night.
While the whole show was 100% professional there were still a few tongue in cheek moments; most notably when the intro to Uptight had the crowd instantly on their feet and a huge cheer followed when ‘Stevie’ in corn row dreadlocks and shades made his way onto the stage led out by one of the girl singers. Don’t judge; as it was just the right side of good taste and boy could this guy sing like Stevie Wonder; especially on My Cherie Amour which he sang to two local lasses Louise and Gemma.
While only a snapshot of the back catalogue could be shoe horned into two hours, no Motown Revue would be complete without a tribute to the Jackson 5.
Just like in the best pantomimes the band played a generic tune as a voice introduced the brothers with a list of their record breaking facts as the male singers wearing huge Afro wigs and blue and white silk suits ran onto the stage and took up their positions before going into I Want You Back. So far; so good and ‘in the moment’ I didn’t realise that there were only four of them until a voice boomed out….. “and now…..MICHAEL JACKSON!” The screams that greeted the one time mini-Diana Ross were worthy of the real Michael.
Visibly smaller than the four ‘brothers’ and with a much higher voice; this was perfect casting and a perfect end to the show with Blame it on the Boogie and, especially I’ll Be There standing out on a night of truly great songs.
While I’m aware that this wasn’t a concert in the way I would normally attend; I was still disappointed that the encore was Signed, Sealed, Delivered when; baring in mind this was December, they could and should have done a song or two from the Motown Christmas album.
That said; it was a fabulous evening, and my adage that some Soul Music is for dancing to and some for listening to; and we received both in abundance tonight.