The rare privilege of watching Motown royalty in the flesh is not something to be taken lightly. Many of her former label mates are already headlining the great gig in the sky. But Martha Reeves, now 72, keeps on trucking, performing her second series of British shows in as many years.
The gig could easily have swayed into whimsical novelty, or the sort of camp cabaret associated with an end-of-the-pier show. But she is still performing with great determination, backed by a young eight piece band that mean business. Playing for two hours, she is in fine voice and delightful company – elegant yet playful in a body-hugging purple dress. “I shouldn’t have worn this,” she says in the glow of beaming stage lights. “I should have dressed like Miley Cyrus.”
The intimacy of the venue helps. The Brudenell Social Club is the perfect setting for a Martha Reeves revival; the kitsch aesthetics reminiscent of the sort of stages Reeves would have played on in the 1960s. The fact she’s here during the Brudenell’s centenary year only adds to the gig’s significance.
Her absent singers, the Vandellas, are replaced with a capacity crowd cutting a rug and adding their own backing vocals. Her soul-stomping set is choreographed to the frenetic pace of a classic James Brown or Sam Cooke show. There are dedications to lost friends – notably in the form of Michael Jackson’s I Want You Back – and smatterings of Christmas cheer, particularly on a groove-heavy rendition of Silent Night.
But the show is bookmarked by her signature tunes, each dutifully embellished. An extended Heatwave offers the band some breathing space. Nowhere To Run and Jimmy Mack ignite the room and remind us what perfect pop should sound like. She caveats Dancing in the Street with a roll call of artists who have covered it during the five decades since its release. But it’s her song, and she pays it the respect it deserves. The nostalgic love-in culminates in a Motown medley with the audience dancing on the stage.
Few performers in their eighth decade can boast such stamina, style and vivacity. The jubilant crowd don’t want her to leave, and you get the impression she could – and would – happily have done the whole thing over again.
Gig date: December 15