She may be “72-years-young,” but Patti LaBelle came out like a steamroller when she returned to her semi-regular Ravinia stomping grounds to the pulsing beats of “New Attitude,” clad in a slinky shimmy dress and bright blue nails that lit up the big screen. Along with a seven-piece band and three background singers, the superstar soul singer with one of the best pie-recipes on the planet kept everyone singing right along with fellow dusty “If Only You Knew,” belting straight up to the heavens towards the end and earning an instant standing ovation.
Throughout “You Are My Friend, she showed photos of countless departed celebs and family members, and as the likes of Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Whitney Houston, and finally Prince flashed before everyone’s eyes, it reinforced what a privilege it was to be standing in the midst of a survivor, who after more than 50 years in showbiz, has mastered the art of conserving then conquering.
From there, she took it a little easier at the top of fellow ballad “If You Asked Me To,” reminding all “not to get it twisted” that she was the originator before giving fellow diva Celine Dion some serious competition throughout the soaring crescendo. And the classics kept right on coming throughout 80 minutes in LaBelle’s virtual living room, though the hostess took the pacing a little easier as she insisted “I’m gonna take my time” before the sultry “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is),” while padding a jazzy remake of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’” with lengthy instrumental solos.
However, that decision to store up some energy along the way paid off with a sterling rendition of “Love, Need And Want You,” inciting so many screams it brought Miss Patti to tears. Come a cover of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” her emotional compass turned to chiding a man who took her for granted, and as LaBelle got particularly steamed, she kicked off her high heels one at a time then dropped her microphone to further amplify the drama as the audience erupted.
On a newer note, LaBelle completely reworked Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” as a rousing gospel number, accented with some old time revival-styled soloing from her background singers as she took a breather. Yet she came back swinging a little later with “Lady Marmalade” (somewhat recently resurrected by Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Pink and Lil’ Kim for the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack) during which she invited a bunch of guys “black or white, straight or gay” to try their hand at the chorus (though most were downright cringe-worthy).
In any case, Patti put them all in their place with her signature reading of “Over The Rainbow,” cleverly interspersed with some closing snippets of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” before ending with the equally inspiring “You Are My Friend/What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” Throughout the latter, she showed photos of countless departed celebs and family members, and as the likes of Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Whitney Houston, and finally Prince flashed before everyone’s eyes, it reinforced what a privilege it was to be standing in the midst of a survivor, who after more than 50 years in showbiz, has mastered the art of conserving then conquering.
Prior to the leading lady, The Commodores added some extra incentive to the bill with a funky but all too fast 45 opening minute set. Co-singer and frequent songwriter Lionel Richie may be long gone, but at least the band is centered around the veteran nucleus of William King, Walter “Clyde” Orange and J.D. Nicholas, who recorded several albums and charted a respectable amount of singles without him.
Of course, they were stuck between the rock and a hard place of having to sing Richie’s obligatory ballads “Easy” and “Three Times A Lady,” though the group’s renditions were merely competent rather than remarkable. Thankfully, the current Commodores were much better on brisker material they originated, such as super smooth “Nightshift” and perhaps the longest yet most joyful edition of “Brick House” in history.
Click here for more photos of The Commodores from Ravinia.
Upcoming concert highlights at Ravinia include Gavin DeGraw and The Fray (June 25); Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration featuring Warren Haynes (June 26); Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter with Shawn Mullins (July 1); Steve Miller Band (July 2); Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple Of The Dog (July 3); Chick Corea Trio and Ms. Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton (July 4); Neil Finn of Crowded House and Guster (July 7); Duran Duran (July 8 and 9), plus Phillip Phillips and Matt Nathanson (July 10). For additional details, visit Ravinia.org.