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Concert Reviews:
Don Was Revue brings Rebellion to Concert of Colors

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2017

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DETROIT -- "It's been a good show, hasn't it?" Motown veteran Carolyn Crawford asked the crowd at Orchestra Hall on Saturday night, July 15.

And when it comes to the annual Don Was All-Star Revue at the Concert of Colors, that kind of question is purely rhetorical.

Over the past 10 years, Oak Park native Was (nee Fagenson), a Grammy Award-winning producer and musician, has made his Revue a highlight of not only the festival (which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year) but of the metro area concert calendar in general. Combining established and up-and-coming artists -- as well as a tremendous house band -- Was' shows have been exhibitions of musical imagination and invention that fans still refer to years later.

Saturday's theme, "Songs Of Rebellion" -- inspired in part by the 50th anniversary of the Detroit uprising -- was a loose one. The 16 songs hailed mostly from the 60s and 70s and from the R&B realm, with no real commentary during the show to tie things together. Rather, Was and company let the music speak for itself, and if the show ran a bit long at nearly two and a half hours you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that could obviously be taken out of the mix.

Outside of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City's Burning" there was surprisingly little in the eclectic set list specifically from Detroit artists -- no Motown or Bob Seger's "2+2=?," for instance, that would seem to fit the theme. That said, there was no shortage of killer moments throughout the night. The idea of "best" is relative, but standouts included a moving version of the Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself" by the Albion duo "The War & Treaty," an exuberant romp through Johnnie Taylor's "I Am Somebody" by Detroit stalwarts Melvin Davis and Dennis Coffey, a soulful treatment of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" by the Howling Diablos' Martin "Tino" Gross and Harmonica Shah," and a roof-raising rendition of Gregory Porter's "1960 What?" by the house band -- most of Was' band Was (Not Was), featuring solos by saxophonist David McMurray and trumpeter Rayce Biggs.

McMurray and Biggs also featured on an extended version of the Roberta Flack/'Eddie McCann & Eddie Davis classic "Compared To What" sung by Malik Alston, while guitarists Brian "Roscoe" White and Randy Jacobs livened the Chi-Lites' "(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People" with solos, Jacobs playing part of his between his legs. Stefanie Christian and Nadir turned Sly & the Family Stone's "Stand" and the Isley Brothers' "Fight The Power" into powerhouse vocal showcases, and John Sinclair delivered a lengthy musical poem about the '67 riots especially written for the show.

Crawford's performance of "Lift Every Voice And Sing," the "Black American National Anthem" that dates back to 1899 and tied a fitting bow around a night of provocative message music. As the entire cast on stage for the end of the song, it capped another solid year for Was' Revue and stoked expectations for next year's 11th edition.

The Concert of Colors continues Sunday, July 16, in and around Detroit's cultural center. Admission is free. Visit concertofcolors.com for details.

Web Site: www.concertofcolors.com

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