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Don Was and all-star friends celebrate Motown's 60th in style at Concert of Colors
DETROIT -- Motown's 60th anniversary was low-hanging fruit for this year's Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue as part of the Concert of Colors.
But the Grammy Award-winning producer from Oak Park and his troupe of 32 musicians picked it clean and with heartfelt exuberance on Saturday night, July 13, in the Detroit Film Theatre Auditorium at the Detroit Institute of Arts, leaving a packed house dancing in the, well, seats.
Like all of Was' expositions, the two-hour-and-15-minute exposition was a marvel of moving parts and musical efficiency. Driven by a crack 12-member house band and clearly benefitting from a performance on Friday night, July 12, in Jackson, the Motown celebration was one of the most fully realized of Was' 12 Revues to date, conceptually and creatively, and it's fair to say that each of the 19 songs -- from Kathy Kosins' opening rendition of Deon Jackson's "Love Makes the World Go Round" to Martha Reeves and her Vandellas sisters' closing "Dancing in the Street -- succeeded, whether they were iconic hits or deep dives into the Motown vaults.
There were, of course highlights within that repertoire, and eight of Saturday's standouts, in no particular order, included...
Motown Funk Brother Dennis Coffey plugged in and shredded while the Was (Not Was) vocal trio of Sweat Pea Atkinson, Sir Harry Harry Bowen and Donald Ray Mitchell delivered two Temptations' hits -- "Cloud Nine," the first track Coffey ever recorded at Hitsville USA, and an epic "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."
After taking on Marvin Gaye 's "Ain't That Peculiar," Mitch Ryder, who skied in from Georgia to be part of the Revue, returned his hit "Devil With the Blue Dress On" to its original Shorty Long arrangement, a bluesy paean for which Ryder noted that Long never received royalty payments. Ryder finished the song James Brown-style, on his knees and crawling off stage, eschewing "help" that was offered by Was and keyboardist Luis Resto.
Kenny Watson's bold take on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," accented by a modal saxophone solo from David McMurray, was actually bettered by his gutbucket performance of the Marvelettes' gem "Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead."
Nadir Omowale lit things up early in the night with the Temptations/Rick James collaboration "Standing on the Top," vamping with through it with Atkinson, Bowen and Mitchell and inserting a bit of Parliament's "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker") while Resto and each member of the horn section took a solo.
Carolyn Striho, with husband and guitarist Scott Dailey, brought a more muscular rock edge to the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," blending nicely with Bowen and Mitchell and adding a bit of dramatic improvisation to the ending.
Ty Stone, looking lawyer-sharp in a gray suit, ably captured the smooth sophistication of the Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears."
There's nothing like seeing genuine Motown talent as part of any Motown-themed revue and Carolyn Crawford ("My Smile is a Frown," "Since I Lost My Baby") and the all-originals Velvelettes ("He Was Really Saying Something," "Needle in a Haystack") won the crowd over with personality as much as performances.
And how better to end a Revue like this than with Reeves, in a shimmering silver-white dress, taking command and calling out for solos while she and the Vandellas ran through "Dancing in the Street," tossing in a snippet of the Staples Singer's "I'll Take You There" and ultimately bringing the entire company back for a final blast of sweet, sweet music.
The 27th annual Concert of Colors continues through Tuesday, July 17, at venues around the Detroit Cultural Center. Full details at concertofcolors.com.
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