When Patti LaBelle burst onto the stage singing “New Attitude” at her recent concert at the State Theatre, it was evident that this 72-year-old rhythm and blues singer was not relying on her legendary past to carry her through the concert. Instead, she used energy, warmth and some great moves, starting on a high note and continuing to build her performance toward an ever-higher crescendo.
LaBelle’s music was a mixture of R&B, ballads and gospel. Songs included “Total Praise” and “Somebody Loves You Baby.” Her rendition of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” was so impressive that I almost forgot that Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes was the group that took this song to a Top 40 hit. Her little quips during the song were not only hilarious, but also seemed to fit right in.
There were several highlights in this tight 90-minute concert, including LaBelle’s mega disco hit “Lady Marmalade,” where she had three gentlemen come up from the audience to join her. One loaned her a beautiful blue sequined jacket, another was an astounding singer, and the third had some surprising dance moves. She also sang a marvelous version of “Over the Rainbow,” a fitting standard for her concerts.
Obviously not afraid of stiff competition, LaBelle highlighted her backup singers by giving them solo performances. Debbie Henry, a long-time member of LaBbelle’s entourage, was sheer energy as she belted out her gospel tune, raising the audience to its feet. This made me think that it would be lovely to come back to spend a musical evening just with Debbie.
As with almost every major singer who has come to town in the last year, LaBelle sang a Prince song. This one was “Yo Mister,” a song she once recorded with Prince. She ended the show with two gospel tunes, “You Are My Friend” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” as the screen showed a montage of artists, especially R&B artists, who have passed away over the years.
During the concert, I had been racking my brain trying to figure out who the gentleman sitting across the aisle from me was. Then LaBelle mentioned that Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame was in the audience, and all was clear. LaBelle has been on the music scene for more than half a century, but she is still a commanding, captivating singer with an impressive vocal range. She would captivate an audience even if they did not know about her rich musical legacy.