Edinburgh Festival 2013: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas


Perhaps the best analogy for the Martha Reeves live experience is the city which made her, Detroit: both still iconic, both now diminished from their past lives.

The sometime city councilwoman talks of her home with a mixture of affection and effacement, glittering in a sequinned dress to match the chandelier in the Assembly Rooms’ magnificent Music Hall. “We always gotta do things big,” she says, wryly amused. “We had the biggest record company and the biggest bankruptcy in the world.”

Sold out to an expectant audience demanding a good time, this was certainly a big show, although the voice leading it didn’t quite reach the same scale as legend might have it. Now 72 years old (“yes, I am a cougar,” she joked to wild applause), Reeves can’t quite hit the high notes like before, adding a tremulous quality to her voice when she tries to do so that’s most pronounced on early tracks like "In My Lonely Room" and "Come and Get These Memories".

Performing with a skilled eight-piece band but no backing singers, the iconic hits "Nowhere to Run" and "(Love is Like a) Heat Wave" were conducted in tandem with an overjoyed audience, her voice best served by the lower-register croon of No One There or the horn-stabbing direct quality of "Watch Your Back". Calling out Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Cilla Black by boldly informing them "Dancing in the Street" is “my song”, she carried the show on force of personality alone.