Martha Reeves & the Vandellas Rocks P’Town
Payomet Launches 2015 Season
By: Charles Giuliano - Apr 25, 2015
Flanked by her sisters Lois and Daplhine, and fronting an eight piece band, veteran Motown soul sister Martha Reeves & the Vandellas rocked Town Hall in Provincetown.
While the official season starts on May 1, after a brutal New England winter, visitors swarmed Commercial Street on Patriot’s weekend, getting a jump start on the good times that lay ahead.
Because of the wide appeal of the legendary recording artist from the golden era of soul the Payomet Performing Arts Center in nearby Truro rented the larger capacity Town Hall. The venue was sold out for the Saturday performance and near to full for the Sunday performance that we attended.
Opening briskly with “Heat Wave” and “Quicksand” Reeves was gasping for breath when she took a break to talk with the audience. This would continue through the ninety minutes plus set that led to the finale of her greatest hit “Dancing in the Streets” which went on forever and ever. The audience just didn’t want to let her go.
In the large hall she created a sense of cabaret intimacy often finding and talking with individuals in the audience. She told us to get up and dance if the “black magic” gets into you. There was a generous space in front of the stage which became a dance floor. This ebbed and flowed depending upon the music.
One young woman, blonde with glasses and a polka dot dress, couldn’t restrain herself. The moves were mostly spastic including impulsively tossing back her hair. She dragged a variety of women into the spotlight with a seeming insatiable need for attention. The other spontaneous dancers seemed to be genuinely moved by the spirit. Being Provinctown there were indeed some odd couples and erotic tensions.
Martha just seemed to groove on the energy while her sisters made well-choreographed moves backing her. Their often apathetic mood reflected yet another of years of one -nighters.
That wasn’t true of Martha, God love her, who performed as if her life depended upon it.
In every sense, she is a true entertainer working herself to the bone.
Well, not exactly skin and bone.
Bulging out of an unfortunately form fitting, frayed sequined gown she is now more matronly than foxy.
There was a real sense of history and the rare opportunity to see and hear a true legend of American soul music. Her music comprised anthems for growing up in the contentious 1960s.
There is, however, rust on the once magnificent pipes. The sisters aptlty maked the lapses in Martha's now limited vocal range.
This was most evident in covers of other artists. The magnificent, subtle protest song “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye had little impact on an audience clearly not relating to its compelling significance. The tribute to Billie Holiday “God Bless the Child” failed to evoke Lady Day. A Beatles cover “Something” flew wide of the mark. A blues was largely salvaged by a galvanic guitar solo.
The extensive use of covers underscores the fact that the Vandellas scored a limited number of chart toppers.
The set spiked whenever they strolled down their own memory lane all with her evocative introductions. The audience bolted to its feet when these treasures were performed.
Even this critic joined in on the chorus of the wonderful “Jimmy Mack.” Astrid joined the dancers for “Nowhere to Run” and “I’m Ready for Love.”
Of course the crowd went wild when she introduced the iconic “Dancing in the Street.”
That’s what the audience came for and Martha & the Vandellas delivered.
From the stage artistic director Kevin Rice advised the audience that tickets are selling briskly for Los Lobos, also slated for Town Hall, on June 21. With weekly performances upcoming highlights include: Hot Tuna, July 21; Dave Mason, July 19; Jefferson Starship, July 21; Rhiannon Goddens, July 20; Judy Collins, July 27; Tom Rush, July 30; Mavis Staples, August 6; Arlo Guthrie, August 12 and John Pizarelli, August 22.