The Funk Brothers, Motown's once unheralded but now internationally acclaimed house band, kept the hits coming at the Birchmere on Sunday night. "Get Ready," "Heat Wave," "My Girl," "Dancing in the Street," "What's Goin' On?," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" -- one chart-topper followed another and another until nearly everyone in the packed house was standing and cheering. Folks couldn't resist dancing in the aisles during the final blast of "Shotgun."
Since the release of the 2002 film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," the Funk Brothers are no longer faceless and unappreciated: Autograph seekers queued up before and after the show. Only three of the surviving six members are currently touring -- bassist Bob Babbitt, guitarist Eddie Willis and drummer Uriel Jones -- but that was enough to spark a 90-minute Motown party. With plenty of help from their seven tour mates, including R&B vets Ray Monette on guitar and Spider Webb on the additional drum kit, the Brothers celebrated their remarkable legacy with a mixture of pride, gratitude and fidelity. Most of the arrangements echoed the original recordings, complete with conga beats, woven guitar and bass lines, and signature drum intros, though Jack Ashford's trademark tambourine was conspicuously absent from the mix.
The challenge of performing songs indelibly stamped by Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Martha Reeves, among other giants, fell to Delbert Nelson, Marcia Ware and Donna Curtain. Each responded with enough vocal power and showmanship to thoroughly delight the crowd with an unbroken hit parade.
-- Mike Joyce