Paul Justman's 2002 documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, was an amazingly brilliant documentary. Chronicling the history of the Funk Brothers--the studio musicians that recorded for Motown--the documentary was a long overdue history lesson that was a pure joy to watch. Adding to the incredible story were the magical live performances that included Gerald Levert, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ben Harper, Joan Osborne and others singing with the surviving Funk Brothers backing them up. But anyone who is expecting anything along those lines with this DVD will most likely be disappointed.
Taped during a live performance on December 31, 2005, Funk Brothers: Live in Orlando is a concert film--nothing more, nothing less. Only three of the original Funk Brothers are present, bassist Bob Babbitt, drummer Uriel Jones and guitarist Eddie Willis. The rest of the band is made up of capable players, including drummer Spider Webb, who also played for Motown, but it is important to keep in mind that well over half the musicians on stage are not official Funk Brothers. Likewise, the three vocalists who perform mostly well-known Motown hits are not household names. The result is a solid performance film, comprised largely of people most people have never heard of.
The concert gets off to a good start with a performance of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" with Marcia Ware on vocals. Ware is the strongest of the three vocalists, who include Donna Curtin and Delbert Nelson, and his performance on "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" is one of the best of this show, which runs at just under one hour (even though the packaging claims 95 minutes). Most of the songs performed are Motown hits, but there is also a great version of "Higher and Higher," made famous by Jackie Wilson.
Funk Brothers: Live in Orlando is not the most exciting of concert films. The performances are all good, but nothing is exceptional. On top of that, the whole thing looks like an adequately shot Grammy performance. The video is edited with fades, and the blazers worn by the Funk Brothers switches from red to blue during the show, making me wonder if this was more than one performance edited together.
This is not a terrible DVD, but it is not great either. This is more like something you put on at a party, to provide some background entertainment. But in terms of something you sit down to watch just to have a great time...well...for that you'll want to watch Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
Funk Brothers: Live in Orlando is presented widescreen. The picture quality is good, with a solid transfer and vibrant colors. The concert, however, is not videotaped in any sort of exceptional way. Everything looks good, but not particularly exciting.
Funk Brothers: Live in Orlando is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo. The sound mix is good, with solid audio levels. Overall, the disc sounds fine, but the performances are missing that special magic that transcends sound levels and audio mixes, and makes a concert film like this something exceptional.
There are three interviews with Bob Babbitt (13 min.), Uriel Jones (12 min.) and Eddie Willis (15 min.) that prove to be as interesting as the concert itself, if not more so. Each talks about how they ended up at Motown, the creative process while working there, highlights of their career, and the impact the film Standing in the Shadows of Motownhad on them. If you take the time to watch the concert, definitely take the time to watch the interviews.
If you don't own Standing in the Shadows of Motown, buy it right now. As for Funk Brothers: Live in Orlando, you can get away with renting it instead of owning it.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]