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Concert Reviews:
Don Was revue shines light on Detroit music past and present

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2011

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DETROIT -- Don Was calls it his "favorite night of the year."

And for a guy who spends many of his other nights working with the likes of the Rolling Stones, John Mayer, Ziggy Marley and others on a stellar resume of rock 'n' roll production, that's saying something.

The Oak Park-raised Was' fourth Detroit All-Star Revue Saturday night (July 16) at Orchestra Hall during the 19th annual Concert of Colors was another gem, as educational as it was entertaining as it celebrated the city's musical heritage as well as its present with 11 diverse acts. It was a 95-minute primer on why the Motor City can give any other purported music hotbed a run for its money as the best in the country -- or the world.

And it wrapped up with an onstage celebration of Motown great Martha Reeves' 70th birthday, complete with a (fake) three-tiered cake. (The real one was enjoyed after the show in the green room.)

Amidst a lineup that had such a wide sweep, it was a blues and rock guitar hero -- Jim McCarty of Mitch Ryder's Detroit Wheels, Cactus, Detroit and the Rockets -- who came closest to stealing the show. Joining Was (ne Fagenson) and his all-star house band for Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Help Me," McCarty first passed the ball to keyboardist Luis Resto and guitarist Brian "Roscoe" White, then brought the dynamic down a bit and built it back up with a blistering solo that brought the near-capacity crowd to its feet for the first time of the night.

McCarty later returned to join Ryder for their 1966 Top 20 hit "Little Latin Lupe Lu."

The Revue was filled with plenty of other highlights, starting with the house band's instrumental rendering of the Stooges' 1969 and White's dueling trade-offs with violinist Sarana VerLin on "Gravity Down" from her latest album Billy Brandt. The Brothers Groove smoothed through "Unavoidable," Ivan Kral led the house band through "Dancing Barefoot," which he co-wrote with Patti Smith, and veteran Detroit music auteur Caroline Striho swirled through the gypsy-flavored "Enchante."

The youthful Black Irish played an old school kind of riffy prog-blues, while saxophonist Wendell Harrison gave the Revue a jazz flavor with "Urban Expression." And Melvin Davis and his United Sounds band reminded the audience that there was more to Detroit soul than Motown with renditions of a pair of his songs, "Chains of Love" and "I Must Love You."

The Revue did miss a pair of its announced acts -- the Muggs due to a health emergency and the Detroit Cobras, who were supposed to perform with Ryder, because of a scheduling snafu. It's a mark of the show's strength that they weren't really missed, and when Was promised at the end of the night that he'd be back with a fifth Revue next year, it was the best news crowd could have heard.

The Concert of Colors continues on Sunday (July 17), starting at 2 p.m. at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., and featuring performances by the Odu Afrobeat Orchestra, the Layabouts, Bettye LaVette and more. A full schedule is available at www.concertofcolors.com.

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