It’s not often we get a Motown legend passing through town these days, especially one who had a hit 50 years ago with a song as enduring and influential as ‘Dancing In The Streets’. At 72 years of age Martha Reeves has come to play a one-off, intimate gig in the Button Factory, at the heart of Temple Bar.
After a brief introduction by the MC, the band, made up of a host of Irish and international talent, take the stage and deliver the opening bars of ‘I’m Ready For Love’, while the Vandellas, dressed in red sequin dresses, also take up their positions. These days they are comprised of Martha’s two sisters, Lois and Delphine, who joined the group in the 60s and 80s respectively. When Martha arrives on stage in a puffy red blouse she declares, “We don’t mind being oldies but goodies” as she lets her powerful voice take lead over the young backing band.
A story follows of how her son once brought her to the movies to see Good Morning Vietnam, without her knowing that her song ‘Nowhere To Run’ featured in it until Robin Williams announces it over the radio mic during the film. Similar anecdotes pepper the performance and offer context to some of her most well known hits. She jokes about how “Jimmy Mack, he ain’t coming back” and tells tales of working with Holland-Dozier-Holland and being in the recording booth, asking them to “turn the lights down to sexy”, which is the cue for the lighting engineer to dim the stage lights, prompting cheers and whistles from the crowd.
‘Heatwave’ gets everybody in the place dancing before she finally speaks of how Marvin Gaye and William Stevenson wrote ‘Dancing in the Street’ for her, after she lists the names of all the other acts to have covered it. The track is a fitting finale for the performance, and the band delivers a short medley of Motown favourites before returning to the 50 year old song as a final farewell. Rather than play an encore the MC promises that Martha and the Vandellas will available for signatures in the foyer after a 15-minute break, a deal that everyone in the crowd seems content with. After all, for a 72 year old, she delivered one hell of a performance tonight, hit after hit for over an hour. Ok, the band weren’t quite as tight as they could have been, but they weren’t her touring band and delivered the goods when needed. This was as close to the glory days of Motown as most of us here are ever going to get.