Last week saw Martha Reeves & The Vandellas return to London to play the Brooklyn Bowl in The O2. Haff was there to review the gig, but got more than he bargained for.
Of all the things you expect to see at a Martha Reeves concert – or any other concert by such a legendary artist – is a fight. Yet, sadly, that is exactly what happened an hour into Martha Reeves’ set last week at the Brooklyn Bowl in London. In all honesty, and despite what Reeves herself tweeted to us last Friday, it did spoil what should have been an even of classic Motown hits.
That said, the performance by all on stage was brilliant up until this point. Backed by an eight piece band, including her long-time drummer and musical director Larry Crocket, as well as her Vandellas comprising of her sister Lois (who has toured with Reeves since the late sixities) and Delphine (who has toured since the eighties), Martha Reeves certainly put on a performance worthy of a Motown queen. Disappointingly, the Brooklyn Bowl was only about half full last night, potentially the result of earlier London shows this year, as well as planned performances later on in the year. Nonetheless, Reeves and her sisters took this all in their stride, ever the true professionals, looking to deliver a memorable performance for those of us in the audience.
That is exactly what Reeves and her sisters did: they put on a brilliant performance, combining energetic dance moves with sweet soul harmonies, backed by their brilliant band, particularly the four-piece horn section recreating the brassy arrangements present on the original records. Certainly, time has taken its toll on Reeves’ voice, it’s a little deeper and raspier than it once was, but as she reminded the audience, she has just turned 74 this past July. Nonetheless, Reeves is an agile 74 year old, gliding around the stage clearly still getting a thrill performing these songs recorded over five decades ago. In fact, Reeves sounded in better voice than when we last saw her over three years ago.
It was the hits that Reeves delivered with perfection. Their rendition of ‘Come And Get These Memories’ hit the mark beautifully, with Lois and Delphine providing sweet backing harmonies; Lois in particular was a real treat to watch, waving and smiling with audience members, again still clearly enjoying performing with her sister. Soon after the first major hit of the night was delivered in ‘Nowhere To Run’, famous for its inclusion in the Robin Williams film Good Morning Vietman; Reeves dedicated the song to Williams, claiming that she was delighted when the song was included in the film. Again, the three sisters voices combined superbly, a true soulful blend that can only be achieved through years of work and practice.
Reeves also included a tribute to The Beatles, mockingly stated that she was seeking ‘revenge’ on the Fab Four after they recorded several Motown songs (such as ‘Please Mr Postman’ and ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’. Before long Reeves delivered another of her classic hits in ‘Jimmy Mack’ to perfection, her voice expressing that raw, soulful emotion that distinguished Reeves from her female contemporaries at Motown.
The highlight of the evening for us was her rendition of ‘Heatwave’, one of the best Motown songs ever recorded. Unlike many other such legends Reeves always performs with a horn section, and this rendition of ‘Heatwave’ proved why. This was her first major hit, and after years of performing it, Reeves showed no sign of being tired performing this or any of her other hits.
During the next song, a blues-infused number that saw her guitarist produce a nice BB King-esque solo, was when the fight broke out. We were stood to the left of the stage, and the group involved in the fracas had been heckling Reeves all night, and generally annoying all of those around her with their childish, drunken behaviour. They even claimed that it was the birthday of one in the group, to which Reeves and her sisters kindly took note and sang the chorus of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’.
Reeves showed nothing but kindness to these louts, and in return, after a complaint to security about one of the most drunken members of the group, a brawl ensued. It has been alleged that there was use of the n-word, although we did not hear this language being used. Whatever happened, the night was spoilt. Punches and slaps were flung at other members of the audience, with one of the girls on the floor for a good five minutes. Reeves was totally aware of the situation and ever the professional called for calm, urging the audience to ‘make love not war’. Yet, these individuals clearly had no interest in seeing the rest of the gig, nor did they possess any respect for their fellow concert-goers or Reeves herself. This is a Motown legend they had come to see after all. Reeves clearly distressed calmly stated that she could not go on with the performance with the girl involved in the fight on the floor, and promptly left with her sisters and band.
The rest of us in the audience were left shocked and bemused. After all, this was a Martha Reeves concert, not Millwall at home to Leeds. Once security escorted the gang off the dance floor and the girl miraculously stood up and left, Reeves returned to the stage to perform a blistering version of ‘Dancing In The Street’, plus an encore where she allowed her band to jam, and sang snippets of soul classics from the Four Tops’ ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, to Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock On Wood’.
It’s a testament to her professionalism and dedication to her craft that Reeves handled the situation as she did, and rose above the awful actions of the crowd to return and deliver a brilliant encore. Its likely that because of the fracas Reeves cut her set short, and its sad that five or so people, clearly not fans of Motown nor Reeves, could get so stupidly drunk and conduct themselves in such an appalling manner. Nevertheless, this should not take away from Martha Reeves and The Vandellas’ outstanding performance last Thursday. She is a true Motown idol and deserves better. On behalf of London’s Motown and soul fans, we can only apologise.
Martha Reeves & The Vandallas frequently tour the UK, all her tour dates can be found on her official website, and below via Ents24.