Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Jazz Cafe, London

"If you see an old man pushing his way to the front," says Martha Reeves, "let him through." With this droll nod to the ravages of time, Martha and her current Vandellas (sisters Lois and Delphine) kick into 1967's Jimmy Mack, their classic plea to an absentee lover, after which she fakes disappointment at his no-show. "You mean to tell me we're going to be singing this song for ever?"

Like many Motown stars, Reeves butted heads with label founder Berry Gordy. Unlike some, she survived. Proudly urban (the band was named after Detroit's Van Dyke Avenue and singer Della Reese), she sang with a toughness that made Diana Ross, Gordy's golden girl, sound prissy.

By circumstance rather than design, the hard-driving urgency of hits such as Nowhere to Run and Heat Wave reflected the impatience of America's black inner cities in the mid 1960s. As Marvin Gaye once remarked: "Back then, Martha and the Vandellas came closest to really saying something."

In the days of the Motown revue, the group just played the hits, but tonight's headlining set requires a certain amount of strategic padding, including a nonplussing cover of Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross and a version of Dancing in the Street that sprouts extensions - a soul medley, a James Brown homage - like a house with unlimited planning permission.

But Reeves retains the voice, the presence and, even when visibly out of breath between songs, the quick, peppery wit. Before Dancing in the Street, she issues a tart reminder to everyone who has ever covered it, including Mick Jagger and "Dave" Bowie, "We came all the way from Detroit to tell you this is our song." True enough. Only she can lend it the flinty exuberance that, when it was needed, made it really say something.

· Until August 25. Box office: 0131 556 6550

Contributor

Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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