Left - The Temptations
There are some songs that everyone knows the words to. Songs that are intimately familiar and conjure memories from the past: of a dance or a forgotten movie or a sunny afternoon. The Motown 50 Event at Rod Laver Arena was packed full of these songs, so that every opening chord inspired an audible gasp of recognition.
Motown music originated in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan. It was a record company that was founded by Berry Gordy Jr and was the first label to feature predominantly African American artists. Many of the seminal bands of this time, such as The Temptations, The Supremes and The Four Tops formed the line up of The Motown 50 Event, a celebration of fifty years of Motown music.
Motown music was a key force in the racial integration of popular music and many of its recording artists were the first to find success with both white and African American audiences. This integration appeared to be complete as the aging Anglo-Saxon audience streamed into Rod Laver, ready to be transported back to their youth.
Opening the show was Mary Wilson of The Supremes. There appeared to be some technical issues as at times it was difficult to discern her vocals over the band. She belted her way through Supreme hits such as ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ and ‘Baby Love’ much to the delight of the crowd. The dense stadium rock style of orchestration was overwhelming at times and the resulting wall of sound lacked the intimate sparseness of early motown recordings.
The Miracles were up next offering hits such as ‘Shop Around’ and ‘The Tracks of my Tears’. Bobby Rogers was the last remaining original member of The Miracles and at times it seemed uncertain whether he’d make it through to the culmination of the choreography.
The Temptations singing ‘My Girl’ was a highlight of the evening as the sound of thousands of people singing ‘I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day’ was loud enough to overpower the band.
The clunky addition of Joan Osborne was unnecessary, as she looked decidedly out of place and uncomfortable. Her songs, in particular her version of ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’, were mediocre at best. Also unnecessary was the inclusion of Jimmy Barnes, whose trademark strained vocal style was in direct opposition to the soulful crooning that is at the core of Motown music.
Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas offered some spark and banter and her version of ‘Dancin’ in the Street’ another highlight of the evening.
Closing the night was The Four Tops whose songs ‘Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)’ and ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’ were lapped up by the crowd.
All the acts sported classic Motown fashion with matching suits and synchronised gestures and choreography. It seems that Motown has become a performance genre in and of itself with established nostalgic clichés and conventions.
In this respect The Motown 50 Event was more like a tribute show, with all the razzle dazzle of a Las Vegas revue but with none of the energy, passion and soul of a music that was synonymous with social change and civil rights.
THE MOTOWN 50 EVENT
Venue: Rod Laver Arena
Date: Tuesday 16 February
Bookings: ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012
Venue: Sydney Entertainment Centre
Date: Friday 19 February
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au | 1300 723 038
Venue: Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Date: Tuesday 23 February
Bookings: ticketek.com.au | 132 849