By John Curley
The show by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas at B.B. King’s in New York City on Friday, February 12th was a real family affair. In addition to the Vandellas—Reeves’ sisters Lois and Delphine—Reeves’ older brother Benny Reeves also performed several songs in the concert. And Benny Reeves, clad in a sharp suit, opened the show with a terrific cover of The Temptations’ “My Girl.” Then, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, all in black dresses, took the stage and went right into their first number, “Show Me The Way.”
Reeves and the Vandellas were backed by an excellent band. The band was comprised of: Al McKenzie, the music director, on keyboards; Keith Droz on drums; Al Orlo on guitar; Mark Rufino on bass; Joe Romano on trumpet; Barry Sachais on trombone; David Lackner on tenor saxophone; and Joao Gonsalves on baritone saxophone.
The second song of the set by Reeves and the Vandellas, “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave,” was one of the highlights of the show. They performed an extended version during which Reeves joked with the crowd about the frigid weather in New York City and Valentine’s Day. The band was stellar throughout the song, the horn section in particular.
“Come And Get These Memories” was explosive, featuring great work by the band, powerhouse lead vocals by Reeves, and sassy backing vocals by the Vandellas. The crowd loved it.
The performance of “A Love Like Yours Don’t Come Knocking,” written by the stellar songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, was beautiful and soulful. Reeves, who is 74 years old, then spoke to the crowd a bit, and talked about how much she enjoyed being a great-grandmother. Some members of the crowd seemed quite surprised to hear that Reeves has great-grandchildren given her powerful performance.
The extended version of “Nowhere To Run” was stellar, and the horn section added a great deal of punch to it. Prior to performing the song, Reeves spoke about Robin Williams and discussed how grateful she was that Williams included “Nowhere To Run” in his film Good Morning Vietnam.
Following the performance of “Nowhere To Run,” Reeves toasted the crowd and introduced several people in the audience. Then, Reeves talked about The Beatles coming to America and the great reception that she and the Vandellas received when they went to the UK for the first time. With mock anger, Reeves joked about her disappointment that The Beatles never covered any of her songs and that led to her decision to cover The Beatles’ “Something.” Reeves and the Vandellas then performed a fantastic version of “Something,” which featured terrific guitar work by Al Orlo.
Following a fun and quite spirited performance of “Jimmy Mack,” Reeves reintroduced her brother Benny to the crowd and then she and the Vandellas left the stage temporarily as Benny Reeves sang the lead vocal on a bluesy, terrific cover of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” The Vandellas then returned to the stage and backed Benny Reeves on a moving cover of Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia.” The audience responded with loud applause and cheers.
Reeves, now clad in a different dress, returned to the stage as her brother left and joined the Vandellas and the band in a soaring performance of “Higher And Higher” that elicited quite a response from the crowd.
Reeves’ vocals on “No One There” were fantastic, and the understated playing by the band fit the song perfectly. Reeves then implored the crowd to assist on backing vocals for “My Baby Loves Me,” which led to a really nice performance of the song.
The performance of “Watch Your Back” was incendiary, and it featured great guitar work. Guitarst Al Orlo went to the front of the stage to play his solo, and received an enthusiastic hand from the crowd.
The show ended with a wonderful, extended performance of “Dancing In The Streets” during which each member of the band played a brief solo. Many people in the crowd, which was seated at tables, got up and danced. It was quite a sight. Before performing "Dancing In The Streets," Reeves told the story of how Marvin Gaye wrote the song for her as well as name checking the many artists that have covered the song.
The show was 100 minutes long, and it was a knockout performance. Reeves, the Vandellas, and the band combined for a memorable concert that cheered and warmed the crowd on a very cold night in New York City. And I’m sure that every performer would like to have the energy and terrific sense of humor that Reeves possesses when they are a great-grandparent. In closing, it must be stated that Martha Reeves and the Vandellas still rock!
The set list was as follows:
My Girl (lead vocal by Benny Reeves, cover of song by The Temptations)
Show Me The Way
(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
Come And Get These Memories
A Love Like Yours Don’t Come Knocking
Nowhere To Run
Something (cover of song by The Beatles)
The Thrill Is Gone (lead vocal by Benny Reeves, cover of song by B.B. King)
Rainy Night In Georgia (lead vocal by Benny Reeves, cover of song by Brook Benton)
Higher And Higher
No One There
My Baby Loves Me
Watch Your Back
Dancing In The Street