Martha Reeves and the Vandellas – review

Ronnie Scott's, London

There is a brief moment, almost at the end of her show, when Martha Reeves' voice comes into its own. As you might expect, she is singing her deathless hit Dancing in the Streets – but, unexpectedly, it happens during the song's absurdly protracted coda, when she pays tribute to her friends in the business, among them Mavis Staples. Reeves gives us a verse of the Staple Singers' funk gospel song I'll Take You There, and for those few lines allows her voice to drop an octave, to a husky rasp. It's a wonderful sound: if only she had used it more.

Instead, Reeves persists in singing high, straining for a register just beyond her reach. It's not that she can't get up there, more that she has no control over the notes when she does: they quiver and ping and morph into shrieks. You can't blame her for wanting to deny the ravages of time – and yet, it's hard to understand why someone evidently so passionate about performing doesn't do so to her own advantage.

Equally unfortunate is the exposure of her voice in this setting. The current Vandellas – "babies who weren't even born" when Reeves' best-loved songs were released – are barely audible, while the backing band are restrained to the point of perfunctory. Nowhere to Run and Heatwave ought to pulse with barely contained sex, but these renditions are bloodless: you long for the filthy sound of soul throwbacks such as the Dap-Kings. As she demonstrates the funky chicken, it's clear Reeves is having a splendid time, as is the audience member in his 60s rejuvenated by the loveliness of Jimmy Mack. But the gap between past and present is acute.


Maddy Costa

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Reeves retains the voice, the presence and, even when visibly out of breath between songs, the quick, peppery wit, writes Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

18, Aug, 2008 @11:01 PM

Article image
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas review – still hitting a high note
At 73, the Motown star has a classic and timeless appeal, and generates a dangerous amount of energy on stage.

Dave Simpson

13, Jul, 2015 @12:11 PM

Article image
Martha Reeves – Edinburgh festival 2013 review

Off-piste a cappella and audience participation brought this gig memorably to life, writes Graeme Virtue

Graeme Virtue

08, Aug, 2013 @11:07 AM

Article image
Martha Reeves: ‘The only thing that can change things is music’
The Motown legend recalls bringing segregated audiences together – and dismisses much of today’s music as ‘people talking to toys’

Tim Jonze

16, Apr, 2015 @5:23 PM

Article image
'A legend in her own right': Carolyn Franklin, Aretha's forgotten sister
She was a genius songwriter and singer but could never escape her sibling’s shadow – and died at just 43. Family and friends including Martha Reeves and Bettye Lavette celebrate the life of a cruelly overlooked artist

Fraser Morris

07, Jan, 2021 @12:37 PM

Article image
Back2Black – review
Gilberto Gil was in excellent voice as he hosted this festival packed with celebrities from Brazil, Africa and elsewhere, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

02, Jul, 2012 @2:32 PM

Delilah – review
It's a long time indeed since anyone had their sound described as "trip-hop" – but it's fitting for this intriguing singer, writes Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

25, Apr, 2012 @5:24 PM

Article image
ESG – review

New York funk pioneers ESG deliver a set drenched with cool, menace and dread, writes Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

20, Jan, 2014 @5:57 PM

Article image
RockNess – review

Biffy Clyro topped off a satisfying lineup at RockNess, including the View, Nile Rodgers and even an unadvertised appearance by the sun, writes Graeme Virtue

Graeme Virtue

12, Jun, 2012 @3:46 PM

Aloe Blacc – review
Faced with the chance to become the voice of a generation, Blacc opts instead to be a singing Butlins redcoat, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

27, Oct, 2010 @9:00 PM