The truth is, if I hadn’t been doing a review for Crave, I wouldn’t have been interested to see Lionel Richie. The truth also is, now that I have seen him, I’m glad I did. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of him. The 68 year old has been supplying radio stations with big middle of the road but popular hits for many years. Those songs weren’t to my taste, but they were- and still are – part of the soundscape of anyone of my generation.
That is of course the key point, and Lionel Richie knows it. Last night he took a big Spark Arena crowd on a musical memory tour and reminded us of the power of shared experience. When people start singing along with an artist the connection is communal but also personal, because we are led back on our own inward journey. The cameras often gave us glimpses of couples soaking up the songs that they heard together in earlier times. Songs like Hello, Say You Say Me, and Three Times A Lady are big lush romantic – and soppy – ballads, and they clearly opened the hearts of many in the arena. And it has to be said that Lionel Richie played to his audience superbly. He knows his songs swim in love, romance and courtship, and he’s there to encourage us to take the dip once more. When he needed to, he engaged in banter. More than once he advised couples near the front of stage to go find a room and on one occasion he recoiled in apparent shock when one woman invited him to come along. At other times he just stood there at the end of a song, not saying a word but just looking out at everyone, as if to say “I’m glad you enjoyed that, I enjoyed it too”. Like many artists he feeds off the energy he’s receiving from his audience. Given he’s sung this material many times over many years, that energy is just what he needs, and there was plenty coming back at him last night to fire him along.
With a lively band and plenty of action on the video screen behind him, he kept up a brisk pace through his set, and cleverly placed the slower songs to allow us all to take a breath. That was one surprise for me, in that the ballads were the songs I most recalled, but I fact there were plenty of upbeat numbers – with several Commodores songs – to keep people on their feet. Richie himself is still lean and fit and showed us more than few moves of his own. Of these more upbeat songs, perhaps only Brickhouse, an anthem to women’s anatomy, seemed out of place, even though it was played with reverence rather than leeriness.
Having said all that, I thought it took him a few songs to get into the groove. At first he seemed to be holding his microphone too far away from his mouth, and to me his voice was lost amidst the instruments we were hearing. It annoyed me for a while but those concerns faded as the concert moved along. Lionel Richie’s voice seemed to grow stronger – or maybe the sound mix desk did some tweaking, I don’t know – but he was belting it out loud and clear at the end.
As one does, I took notes as the show proceeded, but somewhere in the second half of the evening I put the notebook down. Like just about everyone else, I was on my feet.
Earlier, Chic with Nile Rodgers also had Spark Arena on its feet. Rogers, sporting a pink beret with long dreadlocks out the back, and wearing sunglasses, a multi coloured jacket and white trousers, cut quite the figure. He took centre stage and did most of the talking, but while he sang with this band he left the lead vocal duties to two female singers, Folami and Kimberly Davis, with the latter giving us a wonderful example of the power of soul singing.
Chic blasted their way through a hit list including, of course, and Good Times, which he used to close the show, and during which he brought about 30 audience members on stage to dance and bump their way along to the song.
Rogers actually came out on stage before the show got going to chat to us, in particular to reinforce that all the material we were going to hear was written by him in the first instance, even thought it may have been made popular by other artists later. This also happened during the show, and when we got to songs like Let’s Dance (released by Bowie) or Like a Virgin (Madonna) I guess you understood why he felt the need to explain it all first. He also spoke at length about a battle against cancer, and then later still his drummer reminded us of the grammy’s and other awards that have come Rogers’ way. You can argue this was all useful information but it gave the show too much of an air of self promotion in my book. That’s especially so given the music itself was pretty damn good. This was my first live experience of a big band with a horn section and two accomplished female singers belting out r n b and soul. Lots of power there.
Just as with Lionel Richie, I would not have gone out of my way to see Chic. Now, with my musical education suitably broadened, I am happy I’ve seen both artists.All Night Long.
Many thanks to Chris Morgan for his photos of the night.