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Concert review: Martha Davis and the Motels in total control in Scottsdale

Martha Davis and the Motels in concert, July 23, 2014, Scottsdale, AZ
Martha Davis and the Motels in concert, July 23, 2014, Scottsdale, AZBecky Hansen

Martha Davis and the Motels in concert, July 23, 2014, Scottsdale, AZ

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Go to any yard sale and the idiom, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, is in full display. So it is with many rock artists. They may burst on the scene with edgy, new music, loved by some and despised by others. Then they go mainstream and alienate old fans for being too commercial but pick up new fans in the process. On Wednesday night, July 23, 2014 at the Talking Stick Resort’s Salt River Grand Ballroom in Scottsdale, Martha Davis and the Motels gave the audience a chance to experience all sides of their music. The result? It is possible to enjoy it all.

Martha Davis and the Motels in concert, July 23, 2014, Scottsdale, AZ
Martha Davis and the Motels in concert, July 23, 2014, Scottsdale, AZBecky Hansen

Currently, Martha Davis and the Motels are part of the Replay America, the Ultimate 80’s Festival tour. The festival usually features four acts, The Go-Go’s, Martha Davis and the Motels, Patty Smyth of Scandal and Naked Eyes. But for this night, only the Go-Go’s and Martha Davis and the Motels performed. That was a boon to Motel fans, as the group was able to perform a longer, fifty minute set, which drew songs from the Motels’ first four studio albums and one from their latest studio release, 2008’s “This.”

It appeared that many in the audience were unfamiliar with the Motels’ body of work, which is surprising given the connection the Go-Go’s and The Motels have. When first starting out, the bands shared rehearsal space and the two bands have often been on the same bill together.

Davis started out the night with one of the Motels’ more familiar songs, “Suddenly Last Summer.” The introduction drew some applause of recognition, even though the band’s rendition was more rocking and less 80’s sounding than the song originally was recorded. No harm in that.

Davis was center stage, strumming rhythm guitar when she began to sing. Had one been an ancient mariner, they would have steered their ship into a rock. Davis’ Siren like voice was as enchanting as it was when first heard over thirty years ago. Always one of the unique voices from the 1980’s, her ability to raise goose bumps has not faded.

“Where Do We Go From Here (Nothing Sacred),” another cut from the Motels’ 1983 release, “Little Robbers,” followed. The band, Clint Walsh on guitar, Eric Gardner on drums, Brady Wills on bass, Nic Johns on keyboards and original Motels’ keyboard and saxophone player, Marty Jourard, remained tight on this song and throughout the night.

If there was a list of torch songs for the 1980’s, “Take the L,” would certainly be at the top of the list. Davis sang the heartbreaking song with such passion, it was as if the subject of the song was sitting front row, center before her.

Next up was something old and something new, “Counting,” from the Motels debut self-titled album of 1979 and “Nothing,” from 2008’s “This.” Twenty nine years may have separated the albums, but Davis’ compositions were both equally melancholy.

“So L.A.” livened up the pace a bit, again the live version being played harder than that found on the album “All Four One.” Davis still remained vocally strong as Walsh cut loose on his guitar.

Die hard Motel fans, of which there were probably only a few in the audience, were treated to lesser known Motel songs such as “Danger,” “Closets & Bullets” and “Party Professionals.” Davis sounded like her heart was broken with every word she sang.

But the entire crowd was energized when Davis dashed off stage towards the end of “Apocalypso” and reappeared in the middle of the audience as she sang “Total Control.” Remarkably, Davis never missed a beat vocally as she shook hands, endured hugs and stopped for countless photographs while she weaved through the masses.

The night ended with the Motels’ most popular song, “Only the Lonely.” Now the crowd was up, many singing along, some swaying to the melody. Davis hit the high and low notes the song demands and it was easy to be transported back to the early 1980’s when hearing that song gave you chills.

Overall, the evening was a fifty minute journey into the music of Martha Davis and the Motels. It was a good primer for those that didn’t know the music and a good reminder for those that did. It was nothing but treasure.

Set List: Suddenly Last Summer | Where Do We Go From Here? (Nothing Sacred) | Take the L | Counting | Nothing | So L.A. | Danger | Closets & Bullets | Party Professionals | Apocalypso | Total Control | Only The Lonely