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  Arts & Entertainment

No Longer In Shadows, Funk Brothers Light Up Stage At Garde

Day Staff Writer, Arts/Music Reporter
Published on 11/5/2005

You know you're at a great concert when you see someone who obviously has no idea how to dance do an unabashed impression of one of The Temptations.

When the Funk Brothers played at the Garde Arts Center on Friday night, nobody was worried about who was watching them shake it. The band played, the people danced, and everyone went home with smiles on their faces.

The Funk Brothers are the mostly anonymous, mostly underappreciated band that played the music behind just about every Motown hit, and created the Detroit sound that skyrocketed the careers of several Motown artists, from The Temptations to Marvin Gaye.

Only recently has the band been properly recognized for its work, most notably in a book and documentary film titled “Standing In The Shadows of Motown.” But everyone at the Garde knew exactly who was on stage.

The three remaining Funk Brothers were joined by several Detroit-area musicians to play and sing some of the songs that never made them famous: “My Girl,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” “Ain't Too Proud to Beg,” “Heat Wave,” “Neither One of Us,” “What's Going On?”

The list of hits seemed endless, inspiring singer Delbert Nelson to start a chant among the audience during a breakdown: “Ain't no party like a Funk Brothers party, ‘cuz a Funk Brothers party don't stop!”

Since they have always been a backup band, the Funk Brothers didn't do much grandstanding, and the only giveaway that they were any different than the younger players and singers accompanying them were their bright red double-breasted blazers.

Bassist Bob Babbitt leaned back against his bass rig, occasionally sticking out his tongue during a particularly jaunty lick. Eddie Willis, who shouted “Good evening!” from the dark before the show began, sat on his stool and lifted his knee under his guitar on every pluck and bend. Uriel Jones sat behind the drums and kicked out the funky beats, his bald head and toothy grin shining in the stage light.

The three men didn't jam enough to really show off their incredible jazz and R&B skills (though each took a solo in the encore), and it was a shame they mostly played to the crowd. Normally, a person might look at these cover songs and turn up their nose in the absence of the great performers who made them famous (Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, etc.), even though the wonderful and powerful voices of Nelson, Marcia Ware and Donna Curtin were certainly up to the task.

But on Friday night, the original singers weren't necessary. Instead, the crowd was allowed to appreciate each song in its truest form: a beautiful, timeless creation born of men who love music above everything else, and who are now, finally, receiving some love in return.
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