Standing IN the Shadows of Motown Revue at Massey Hall, April 15. Tickets: $40-$60. Attendance: 2,000. Rating: NNN
For an encore, the overlooked and under-appreciated Detroit session musician stars of the documentary film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown decided to try to bring some of their studio magic to the Massey Hall stage.And even though the Motor City wrecking crew known as the Funk Brothers has been reduced to a handful of survivors (wearing red blazers to distinguish them from the Philly International session ringers brought in to fill the empty chairs) that familiar Motown bounce came across loud and clear.
It demonstrated that there really is something in the way Jack Ashford shakes a tambourine, Joe Hunter pounds his keys, Bob Babbitt thumps his electric bass, Uriel Jones snaps a snare and guitarists Joe Messina and Eddie Willis stoke their Telecasters in tandem that contributed to the elusive Motown sound -- at least part of it.
What was missing were the stirring voices that turned beautifully crafted tunes expertly played into era-defining classics. Substituting for the singers of the original Motown hits was a cast of has-beens and never-weres.
Documentary/tour conceptualist Alan Slutsky, also serving as guitar-playing bandleader, may believe Motown's musicians could make anybody singing those familiar tunes sound great, and in a sense he's right.
The audience gave the guy who jumped up onstage to sing along with My Girl just as enthusiastic a response for hitting the notes as they gave Maxi Priest after he let backing vocalist John Ingram take the difficult falsetto bit on It's A Shame.
When Joan Osborne got a standing ovation for her rendition of What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of reaction the song's hit-making singer, powerhouse belter Jimmy Ruffin, would've received if the organizers had flown him from England instead of Maxi Priest. And the still fiery Gino Parks would've made a brilliant replacement for the ailing Bootsy Collins, but he didn't get the call.
Unfortunately, while turning the spotlight on Motown's musicians, the event organizers neglected to include the now-forgotten singers who were just as responsible for putting Detroit on the map. Without them, it was really all just a glorified karaoke night -- albeit with master musicians providing the backing tracks.
Sadly, even when the Funk Brothers took a moment to remember colleagues who are no longer with us, nothing was said of the passing of Edwin Starr, the voice behind the hits War, 25 Miles and Agent Double-O Soul, who died of a heart attack April 2 at age 61.