Marvin Gaye, the deceptively entertaining performer.
Marvin Gaye never moved fast, nor danced much. In fact, he often looked a little sleepy onstage. Nevertheless, this show from Gaye’s first European tour in 1976 showcases a calmly captivating Motown icon. This particular performance took place at the Edenhalle Concert Hall in Amsterdam and finds Gaye’s smooth singing voice in top form.
Gaye doesn’t say much from the stage. He briefly asks the audience at the outset if they’re feeling good, before confessing, “I need to feel good with you.” He opens with “All The Way Round” before going into “Since I had You”, which perfectly shows off Gaye’s unique singing style. On it, he alternates between speaking and singing, yet never coming off anything less than conversational. James Brown had more flash and Otis Redding more vocal grit, but few match Gaye for shear communication effectiveness.
The DVD is titled Greatest Hits Live in ‘76 but that’s a slightly inaccurate disc name. This is because it does not include “What’s Going On”, the title track to Gaye’s breakthrough, socially aware 1971 release. Granted, “Save The Children” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler”, also from that pivotal album, are included. But to exclude this call to justice/radio favorite just doesn’t make sense.
Like all great R&B performers, Gaye was both highly spiritual and horny-ly sexual. His tears over the world’s sorry state were combined with the sweat that oozed from his pores during such bedroom classics as “Let’s Get It On”. During his performance of the song here, Gaye takes off his green and white striped jacket and unbuttons – but does not shed – his yellow dress shirt. He also loses a too-big bowtie, which clearly marks this as a ‘70s concert document.
This clothes shedding is a striptease, for sure, but one can hardly imagine any other way to perform this musical foray into foreplay. And remember, this was six years before Gaye recorded “Sexual Healing”. But it’s obvious this love doctor was in the house long before that.
Gaye also sings many of his ‘60s hits because his fans continued to request them. Such requests would come off particularly nostalgic during the current millennium – we’ve gone through a few decades since then. But keep in mind this show was filmed in the mid-’70s and not too far removed from Gaye’s early years.
Gaye had many memorable ‘60s Motown hits, which make up a large portion of his repertoire. These include: “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “You’re A Wonderful One”, “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow”, and “Pride And Joy”. He also sings “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. And although I love the faster, rarely played Gladys Knight & The Pips version of the song, it’s hard to dispute Gaye’s signature take on the tune.
In addition to his solo hits, Gaye also had duet chart toppers, too, most notably with Tammy Terrell on “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”. In this concert, Florence Lyles filled in for Gaye’s multiple duet partners to perform “You’re All I Need”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, “Heaven Must Have Sent You From Above”, “It Takes Two” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.
Gaye is backed throughout by a large group of musicians, The Alan Peters Orchestra, directed by Leslie Drayton. Drayton, a trumpeter and founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire, backs Gaye with a full arsenal of horns and strings, in addition to your basic guitar, bass, and drums. The band’s flexibility ranges from the jazzy blues of “Come Get To This”, to the quiet meditation of “Save The Children”.
Due to the glaring exclusion of “What’s Going On”, one can contest this disc’s greatest hits billing. But there’s no questioning Marvin Gaye’s charismatic sensuality. And even if you close your eyes while this DVD plays, you’ll still likely be moved. Gaye, who started at Motown as a shy piano player, eventually proved to be a soul music great. And this disc does nothing to tarnish that solid reputation.
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