Review : 10/18 Zoellner Performing Arts

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Dennis, Oct 18, 2015.

  1. Dennis Dennis Shook

    Patti LaBelle is not your typical singer.

    Aside from the fact that her voice could enthrall you by singing her grocery list, LaBelle in concert rarely performs her songs in any typical way.

    There was absolutely nothing typical about her performance Saturday as headliner for the Gala2015 fund-raiser at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center.

    LaBelle didn’t fully sing any of the 14 songs in the 95 minutes she was on stage. Rather, she offered her talent in snippets and runs as her band and three backup singers filled in around her.

    What LaBelle did instead was she performed: Talking to – make that holding a running conversation with -- the audience, interacting with them, going off on talking tangents, dancing, even primping in a hand-held mirror.

    “I get the Holy Ghost,” she told the crowd halfway through the show. “I don’t sing the same songs the same way, the same time every night, the same freakin’ words. I’m just a raw person – I’m a freak of nature.”

    But it worked. The audience was engaged, an entertained, the whole night.

    LaBelle opened as a disembodied a cappella voice on “Need a Little Faith” before coming on stage in a full-length black fur to finish the song. She shed the coat to reveal a fringy red dress and high heels for the next song, one of her biggest hits, the chart-topper “New Attitude.”

    But she barely sang that, either, instead introducing her band and dancing around stages so much that when he spoke afterward, she was winded.

    And she spent seven minutes after that reading a note included with flowers given her by an audience member, and receiving very tall, glass, pink (to support the fight against cancer) high heels given her by another fan.

    Somehow LaBelle made it all entertaining. When the shoe-giver told her where he was from, she responded “Hellertown? Well these are some Hella shoes!”

    When LaBelle did sing, it often was other-worldly: High notes, brassy delivery and a rocketing run on “If Only You Knew,” and largely singing all of “I’m in Love Again” before soaring into the stratosphere and scat-singing notes in exchanges with the guitarist from her seven-member band.

    On “If You Asked Me To,” which she pointedly reminded was a hit for her before Celine Dion had even more success with it, she sang in stilted snippets, then held a long, big note, fell into a Pentecostal preacher’s rant, and ended with a scream off mic.

    On other songs she barely sang at all, letting one of her three background singers come to the front of the stage to handle “Love and Happiness” as LaBelle danced, then sat down on the drum riser – “menopausal and out of breath,” she said -- to watch before being moved to dance again.

    Again, somehow it worked. The crowd was standing and clapping along.

    She sang Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” in short bursts, with drum and bass solos, explaining, “You know when the funk is hitting you.”

    She wholly improvised the words on covers of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” and Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” On the former, she leaned over the piano and swung her legs as she sang, then kicked off her shoes high into the air.

    She changed the latter into a full gospel romp and had one of her background singers come forward to preach in the spirit – he even sat, then lay, on the stage. And again, the audience was so engaged, the song got a partial standing ovation.

    LaBelle would down the show with an 11-minute version of the hit “Lady Marmalade” from her 1970s group LaBelle, bringing five men from the crowd on stage to take turns singing and dancing, even reprising “If You Asked Me To” in a duet with one.

    She closed the main set with a powerful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” perhaps her best and most sustained singing all night. And she walked off with a short version of “I Believe I Can Fly.”

    For her encore, she returned in a fringy gold dress for a five-minute version of her 1978 breakthrough song “You Are My Friend” over a montage of performers who have passed away. Then she returned for a second encore, a largely a cappella “I Believe” from her first group, The Blue Belles.

    Throughout the show, the lifelong Philadelphia resident reminded the crowd she’s been singing for more than 50 years, that she’s 71 and that she’s sung it all – “rock, jazz, R&B, country and western, reggae – I just do it.”

    On Saturday, LaBelle just did it.

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