City Slang: Don Was’ Detroit All-Star Revue at the Concert of Colors

Jul 16, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Don Was’ Detroit All-Star Revue at the glorious celebration of musical diversity and multi-culture that is the annual Concert of Colors is now one of the highlights of the musical calendar. Was really has to be applauded. Each year, he pulls together a selection of Detroit’s exceptional talent from all genres and across the eras. In the past few years, artists as prestigious and diverse as Alberta Adams, Marshall Crenshaw, the Ramrods, John Sinclair, Sisters Lucas, Dennis Coffey, Outrageous Cherry and Andre Williams have performed with Was at the Revue, and this year saw a similarly exceptional group of musicians converge.

Folk due Billy Brandt and Sarana VerLin were first up on Saturday night, the latter an original member of Dark Carnival. Backed by the house band, of course including Was himself on bass, the pair blasted through an operatic tune called “Gravity Down” that kicked the whole thing off beautifully.The Brothers Groove were the least interesting part of the evening, but singer / songwriter Carolyn Striho woke up everyone with an awesome polka rocker.

Two great local guitarists, Jimmy McCarty and Ivan Kral, both put in stellar performances. McCarty pretty much took the roof off the place with a rendition of an old Sonny Boy Williamson blues tune, while Kral ran through a Patti Smith song that he had co-written, "Dancing Barefoot".

Blues rockers Black Irish cracked out some Humble Pie-esque rock ’n’ roll, while jazz saxophonist and Tribe Records founder Wendell Harrison practically invented fire with his instrument.

However, Melvin Davis, backed by members of the Wrong Numbers was simply superb tonight. Much like Andre Williams last year, Davis held the audience in the palm of his hand as he strutted around the stage in his white suit. Simply awesome.

Mitch Ryder was joined onstage by McCarty, meaning that we were seeing Mitch Ryder & a Detroit Wheel for the first time in God-knows-how-long. The run through “Little Latin Lupe Lu” was exquisite.

As if Davis and a Detroit Wheels semi-reunion wasn’t enough, Motown legend Martha Reeves rounded the show off with a rousing blast through “Dancing in the Street” that got everyone to their feet. While staring intently at Reeves, celebrating her 70th birthday on stage tonight, I was reminded of the fact that, almost exactly 44 years ago, in July ’67 at the Fox Theater, just down the street from tonight’s venue of the Fisher Music Center, Reeves learned that the Detroit Race Riots had started during this very number.

Here we are, 44 years later, and Reeves is singing the song at a celebration of ethnic diversity. Who says things don’t get better?