The song “Party Professionals” moves with a little bit of a faster cadence than the typical number by Martha Davis and The Motels, but otherwise it captures a lot of the essence of the band.
Ms. Davis sashays onto the stage and breaks into its celebratory lyrics, which include refrains like, “And we will dance/’Til the dawn’s early light/And I will drink to you/And you to I.”
In a musical interlude, Marty Jourard, the band’s other remaining original member, takes to the saxophone for an extended solo that leaves the audience feeling quite romantically wistful during a performance of the song, which opened a show at The Hamilton Live in DC on Tuesday night.
Marty has a penchant for writing sad, romantic songs like “Take the L,” from the band’s third album “All Four One,” which comes up later in the set. “Take the L” is representative of the kind of wordplay for which both Marty and Martha have an affinity as she croons, “Take the L out of ‘lover’ and it’s ‘ooooooover.’”
And of course nostalgia for lost love is a regular visitor to the lyrics of The Motels, whose signature songs include “Suddenly Last Summer” (which they hit early in the show) and “Only the Lonely” (which appeared in the encore), both written by Martha. The Motels hit perfect notes of sophistipop in these numbers, effortlessly blending calypso, blues, rock, jazz and new wave (certainly a genre that initially gave Martha a lot of inspiration when starting out).
Martha and Marty have collaborated on a new album with the rest of the current lineup, which includes bassist and keyboardist Nick Johns, guitarist Clint Walsh, bassist Brady Wills and drummer Eric Gardner. The Motels performed at least three new songs from the upcoming album in concert, including “Lucky Stars,” a hard-rocking yet classic-sounding tune, “Nobody,” a song of bluesy defiance, and “Rejoice” (perhaps?), a song Martha described as being about greed.
Martha Davis and The Motels strike a perfect picture of a band that should be playing in a smoky, dimly lit cabaret somewhere, with Martha’s voice—sweet, thick and ageless—giving shape to the figures on stage. To that end, The Hamilton was a perfect venue to host them, as it meshed well with their sound and look. The band punctuated its cabaret stylings in their encore with “Mr. Grey,” which left Martha and Marty alone on the stage in an ode to yet another lost love.
It’s little surprise then that Martha received a marriage proposal from a member of the audience early in the show. “Oh, I’ve done that twice,” Martha quipped in response. “I’m not very good at it!”
Watch a promo for a concert film by Martha Davis and The Motels performing at The Whisky A Go-Go’s 50th Anniversary:
In what was a pleasant surprise, at least to me, Greg Hawkes, keyboardist of The Cars, opened the show for Martha Davis and The Motels. Greg’s latest project is a solo album of ukulele covers of songs by The Beatles. But he took to his keyboard (and ukulele) to perform a number of songs by The Cars, backed up by Marty on a few of them. (The Cars and The Motels toured together in 1980, and Mr. Hawkes has remained fast friends with the band since then.)
Greg’s rendition of “Just What I Needed,” The Cars’ first single, was a bit quirky but the keyboard were spot-on. And he later hit “Heartbeat City,” “Moving in Stereo” and “Drive.” Augmented by a sampled loop, “Moving in Stereo” was particularly well done, and left me instantly nostalgic for the one time I saw his band during its reunion show at the 9:30 Club in May 2011. Let’s hope they reunite for another effort some day!
Martha Davis and The Motels play tonight at Tin Angel in Philadelphia and then perform in Massachusetts and New York this weekend before they return to more shows in their home state of California. You won’t regret seeing them on this tour, as they are in fine form. And it’s good to know we’ll likely see them again soon, new album in hand.