Patti LaBelle has a big voice, big personality and new attitude.
The veteran soul diva brought that new attitude to the sold-out Mystic Lake Casino Showroom on Sunday night, choosing to vocalize sounds instead of deliver the lyrics to entire songs.
Her voice is still glass-shatteringly magnificent, all swoops and whoops, coos and trills, hollers and hallelujahs. At 74, she can still bring it.
Combine that with her self-deprecatingly diva-ish personality and playful repartee with fans, and her 85-minute concert was the kind of highly entertaining show that truly deserved a standing ovation.
Her 10-member band was first-rate, as always. Same with her two backup singers, who have been with her for more than 35 years. And her percussionist B. Slade, the newest player with only two years with LaBelle, took two head-turning falsetto vocal turns.
What was disappointing is that LaBelle abbreviated her renditions of several songs, including the opening “Up Where We Belong,” “Talk About Love” and “Somebody Loves You.” On too many tunes, she let her backup vocalists handle the choruses while she chimed in with “woos” and “whoops” and other remarkable wordless vocalizing.
LaBelle even limited herself on the signature “Lady Marmalade” to a verse and a chorus before pausing to invite five men from the audience to sing and dance with her. Only one of the them knew the words to the chorus of this enduring disco smash, and he had a respectable voice. Another guy said it was the second time he’d been onstage with her and that the first time changed his life. And then this non-singer danced with unfettered glee — and was rewarded with a lily.
Far more fun was when La LaBelle complained about her uncomfortable high heels, asked if anyone in the audience wore a size 10 and then gave her sparkly shoes to a fan, who strutted like Cinderella as a runway model in front of the stage.
“I do 85 songs and after the 84th song, you bring them back,” LaBelle instructed. “Because I paid for them.”
Actually, there were more like 15 songs in the set. When LaBelle did full versions, it was easy to see why she is still one of the most acclaimed vocalists of her generation. She is a gifted interpreter, putting her own distinctive spin on Chris Stapleton’s recent country love ballad “Tennessee Whiskey” and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ 1970s Philly soul classic “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” which she turned into an emphatic, get-out-of-my-life kiss-off, complete with her literally kicking off (a new pair) of pumps.
The latter song was one of the night’s highlights, as was a steamy version of “On My Own,” her 1986 chart-topping duet with Michael McDonald, which was far more exciting than the original, thanks to Slade’s fiery tenor which fully engaged LaBelle, sparking her to new emotional heights.
The set list included some gospelly testifying with “Every Praise,” the spunky but abbreviated 1984 triumph “New Attitude” and the early solo single “You Are My Friend,” which turned into an in memoriam encore as photos of LaBelle’s deceased friends — from Aretha Franklin and Prince to her own sisters and publicist — were displayed on video screens.
More musically memorable, though, was the diva’s reading of “Over the Rainbow.” She was all about heartfelt emotion, not vocal gymnastics, reining in her voice except for twice soaring for those stratospheric notes but then quickly letting go. Ah, her old attitude at its best.