Along with Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye must be considered one of the most reticent pop performers. This is his second live album in three years, a period bridged by only one studio effort, the disappointing I Want You.
Gaye has been admittedly ill at ease as a live performer. Interviews have revealed his obsessiveness with onstage perfection, as well as his plain old stage fright. The 1974 live record, recorded at his first stage appearance in almost five years, found him awkwardly fronting a large orchestra. Three years later, Gaye still seems nervous in front of an audience. Often at a loss for things to say between songs, he mumbles sweet nothings into the microphone. But the band has been pared down to a more agile 11 pieces, and though Gaye keeps the energy level low throughout, there are some real bright spots: a strong reading of his show stopper, “Distant Lover,” and a remarkably fluid medley, with splashy newcomer Florence Lyles, of his Tammi Terrell/Kim Weston duets.
Though this record is a holding action for Gaye, it contains one real bonus. Side four is a hypnotizing 11-minute party groove called “Got to Give It Up.” Gaye sings in a strained falsetto while fronting a quartet (Marvin plays keyboards) chugging through the most energetic Gaye record since “Let’s Get It On.” Many may prefer the edited 45 to the album’s extended version (it grows on you, like the whole of the JBS’ “Doing It to Death”), but “Got to Give It Up,” the story of a wallflower who shucks his inhibitions, is hard to resist. It’s like Marvin Gaye coming home.