A TRIBUTE TO MOTOWN
CARNEGIE HALL, NY- FEBRUARY 9, 2012
Multi-act theme shows can be a wonderful smorgasbord of talent, or a bit of a mess.
This “Tribute to Motown“ proved to be both.
The packed, older crowd was primed for some soul, and when I saw a huge orchestra appear on stage, I hoped they wouldn’t suck the soul right out of the world famed classical venue. My fears proved unfounded though, as a glamorous Melba Moore proved to be in strong voice, surprise guest Dennis Edwards blew the roof off with his Temptations hits, Ryan Shaw did a lovely, My Cherie Amour, Boyz To Men killed during their Four Tops tribute, and in the greatest surprise of them all, Anita Baker sounding more like Sarah Vaughn every day, tore the place up.
But not all fared as well.
Martha Reeves’ voice, for example, just isn’t what it used to be, Nonetheless it proved thrilling to see this Motown original out a half century later still doing her thing. Dionne Warwick was ill-suited for a Supremes cover. And Paul Schaeffer’s singing on Function in the Junction and another number fell under the category of “so bad it’s good.” In fact, innocent kittens were throwing themselves off rooftops upon hearing some of the notes he wasn’t hitting. Great player, but leave the singing to the other folk, will you Paul?
During the intermission, oldheads bemoaned the ironically poor sound that hurt some of the artists. Shrieking mikes at Carnegie Hall proved frustrating and somewhere Beethoven rolled twice in his grave. But to their credit, the sound issues seemed resolved for the second half, and what an incredible set this proved to be.
Dennis Edwards joined Boyz to Men for a Temptations medley that was just amazing and highlighted by a joyful My Girl sing-along with the standing, clapping crowd. BeBe Winans proved once more why he is one of the greatest vocalists alive today. Kindred, the Family Soul were show-stoppers on Marvin-Tammi duets. Anita did Just My Imagination and beautiful wouldn’t be a strong enough word to describe her memorable rendition. Dionne sung her heart out on a lovely If This World Were Mine with a powerful Eric Roberson. And the grand finale of Reach out and Touch with everyone on stage and with Nick and Valerie’s family on hand, proved to be a fitting finale.
In looking back at the event, I have some other minor quibbles. The projectionist was obviously a high schooler (or an old classical fan), because when Soledad O’Brien discussed a Motown great, the wrong picture would inevitably be shown. For example, “The Four Tops” proved to actually be a classic shot of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Close, I guess, but this ultimately proved distracting. I have to also question why the great Ryan Shaw only got one song to do, Boyz to Men didn’t do any of their hits and plenty of Marvin and Stevie classics weren’t performed, while lesser songs were. The show easily could have been a half hour longer if not more.
Nonetheless, I didn’t see a single person walk out without a smile on their face or a lift in their step.
Kudos to Ray Chew for conducting and producing a memorable show. Although it was far from flawless, it was nonetheless a tremendous night of music and star power.