Music Reviews

Marvin Gaye

The Final Concert

The Right Stuff

Essential as a historical document, yet of questionable entertainment value, it’s no surprise this 1983 show – notably not his last, as the title implies, but recorded on what would turn out to be Marvin Gaye’s final tour – stayed hidden in the vaults for 17 years. The patchy audio – some mono, some stereo – is barely above bootleg quality, and Gaye’s performance is inconsistent.

Given the seal of approval with the inclusion of fascinating liner notes penned by soul music expert and Gaye friend/biographer, David Nathan, it’s clear that although the 22 piece band features top notch musicians, this Indianapolis show was also a good example of Gaye’s unpredictable performances on this tour. While he reportedly hated singing live, there’s no doubt the show-stopping intensity imbued in the nine-minute version of “Distant Love” proves that regardless of how cocaine-addicted or paranoid the artist was about his talent in this late stage of his life (he was killed less than a year later by his father), Gaye could still turn up the heat live.

“Sexual Healing,” Gaye’s last number one hit, was hot at the time, and the extended eleven-minute, set-closing rendition of the song, occasionally obliterated by the predominantly female crowd’s vociferous reaction to sexy stage moves the listener can’t fully appreciate, is more frustrating than enjoyable, although the insert picture of the singer stripped down to skimpy jockey briefs shows us the end result. Versions of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “What’s Going On” are intermittently meandering, perfunctory or simply uninspired, but Gaye’s rambling stage comments when dedicating “Joy” to his father and explaining this might be the last time he plays live, are chilling in retrospect.

It’s also not the entire show. Gaye mentions playing “Rocking At Midnight” in a lengthy introduction to a medley of his duets, but the tune is MIA here. With a ragged sound mix that seems to change on every track, and the singer in shaky psychological shape, The Final Concert is far from crucial to any but the most passionate fan of Marvin Gaye’s extensive career. It does nevertheless complete a vital portrait of one of the most talented and ultimately tragic figures in the history of soul.

BMG, 1540 Broadway, 37th Floor, New York, NY 10036

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