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Monday, March 3, 2014

Unlooped vs. Marvin Gaye @ Pitman Theatre

March 1, 2014

unlooped vs marvin gaye
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With 1978’s Here, My Dear, Marvin Gaye found himself in an unusual and unhappy legal position. Not only had his marriage to Anna Gordy, sister of Motown head Berry Gordy, just dramatically imploded, but his finances were in considerable disarray. With few other options, he agreed to sign over most of the royalties from his next, as yet unwritten, album in lieu of alimony. Tempted to rush something out and get it over with, he decided instead to use the sessions to exorcise the pain of his divorce, crafting an emotionally raw album that perplexed listeners and critics at the time, but has since become recognized as one of the legendary singer’s major works. To pay tribute to the seminal release, Radio Milwaukee’s Tarik Moody invited a host of local artists to reinterpret it, resulting in Unlooped vs. Marvin Gaye.

Part of the eclectic performance series Alverno Presents, Saturday’s event was the largest yet in Moody’s Unlooped series, which throws together Milwaukee musicians from diverse genres and charges them with the task of reimagining the work of an influential artist, with past honorees including J. Dilla and Justin Vernon. With Gaye, the musicians taking the stage at the University’s Pitman Theatre certainly had their work cut out for them, but they lived up to the challenge admirably, from Christopher Porterfield and Kiings hurt take on the eponymous album opener through to the forgiving resolution of “Falling in Love Again” as performed by Chris Crain, Alex Julien, Jon Harris and Darrien Williams. A few of the renditions were relatively faithful, but most rebuilt the songs from the ground up, notably Klassik and Kiings’ ultra-contemporary spin on “Time to Get It Together.”

Further distancing itself from the average tribute show, the program included two original pieces, including Dasha Kelly and Choir Fight’s vulnerable-yet-proud spoken word number “Split,” wherein the focal point of the album finally gets to tell her side of the story, and makes the most of the opportunity. Accompanied by evocative visualizations courtesy of projection duo Video Villains, all the artists involved brought their A-game, although the decision to have Moody introduce and illicit applause for each musician between every song (as well as make endless appeals to support Milwaukee music) sometimes interrupted the ebb and flow of the material, especially since more of the interview footage sprinkled in all too sparingly could have easily blended the discrete performances into a much more immersive whole. Awkward pacing aside, Unlooped more than did justice to Here, My Dear.