Toronto JazzFest Review: Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, June 21st

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Few things are certain during the month of June in Toronto

a) people complain that it’s too cold, then people complain it’s too hot.
b) everyone talks themselves into going to Yonge-Dundas square for that free rock show, but then regret it because of all the people there
c) people ask why Luminato, NXNE, Taste of Little Italy, Father’s Day and MMVA’s all happen on the weekend
d) the opening night of the Toronto Jazz Festival features a kick-ass show.

It is no lie, my friends. The Toronto Jazz Festival likes to kick things off with a bang. I guess in a month where people’s calendars fill up quickly, it is important to announce your presence in a clear, loud tone. Check out the opening night headliner the previous few years:

2012: Janelle Monae
2011: Aretha Franklin
2010: Maceo Parker

This year it was no different. This year’s opening night features two Motown legends – Martha and the Vandellas and Smokey Robinson. Needless to say, the tent at Nathan Phillips Square was filled to capacity with people of all ages when I got to the venue at 8. More impressive was the absurdly large crowd hanging out just outside the tent, stretching all the way to the second level of the square.

At a spry age of 71 and only a few years removed from a term on the Detroit city council, Martha Reeves took to the stage with an energetic vigor. Her band, Martha and the Vandellas were responsible for hits such as Heatwave and Dancing in the Street back in the 60’s and though it has been a long time since those days, Martha and her band still put on a hell of a show. In between the booming voice and the chart topping hits, Martha (probably while catching her breath) would enlighten us with stories from the old days. There’s just something about banter about the olden days that really appeals to me. Perhaps it’s nice to be reminded of a simpler time in the music industry, I don’t know. Tracks like Jimmy Mack finally got the crowd out of their seats and dancing and it would be an understatement to say that a good time was had by all.

Dressed in a a sparkly white suit and surrounded by a band of the same uniform, Smokey Robinson emerged from the back of the stage arm in arm with two dancers shortly after nine. What can you say about the man, he has a smooth voice. He also had really white teeth. Maybe it was just the spotlight, but those babies glistened on stage. At 73, Smokey is no spring chicken himself, but during the set would provide us with some of those classic motown dance moves that honestly, you would be embarrassed if your grandfather did it, but hey, it’s Smokey Robinson. As one would expect from a man who has been putting shows longer then I have been breathing, Smokey’s charisma radiates – he talks to the crowd like they are an old friend and his stories (which included a funny impression of his friend Stevie Wonder) seemed like stories he would tell to people sitting around the fireplace at his house. The set featured a string of his personal hits as well as songs he had written for other bands. My personal highlight – an unbelievable version of My Girl, was a song Smokey had written for the Temptations. It induced a crowd singalong and was definitely another memorable concert experience for me. I am sure I’m not the only one.

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Posted on by Ricky in Toronto Jazz Festival

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Britpop lovin Chinaman, consumer of all things irrelevant. Toronto Raptors fan.

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