Patti LaBelle has been getting more exposure on television lately than in the music world. This year, she was on “Dancing with the Stars” and “Empire” and last year on “American Horror Story.” But it’s a been a long while since she's had a new song on the radio.
LaBelle came to the sold-out Mystic Lake Showroom Saturday night to remind everyone what a musical force she is.
It didn’t matter if she was singing her own hit, a chestnut like “Over the Rainbow” or a hit associated with Michael McDonald, Teddy Pendergrass or even newcomer Sam Smith – because LaBelle owned it. She commanded with her big voice and even bigger personality.
She got gospelly with trills and testifying, soaring to raise-the-roof heights, and also showed restraint and subtlety at times. One thing she doesn’t rein in is her personality. She’s chatty Patti, very in the moment. She proudly wore a beaded necklace that a Mystic Lake official gave her and proclaimed how it matched her outfit (but it was a striking contrast to her bling). She talked about her appearance at Mystic Lake last year, her experience on “Dancing with the Stars” and the challenges of dealing with menopause at age 71 (she even borrowed a hand-fan from a concertgoer to try to keep cool).
LaBelle is loose, spontaneous and real, the kind of performer who will kick off her high heels to make a point and then don flats to make another point. To be sure, she plays the diva to the hilt, playfully glancing in a hand mirror often and spraying herself with perfume more often than necessary. She knows how to work it in such a way that you remember her personality as much as her music.
There were plenty of musical highlights in her 85-minute performance: the Philadelphia R&B classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (complete with ad libbed lyrics), Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” (which she took to church), a couple of praise songs (which seemed somewhat improvised), and “Lady Marmalade” (featuring five guys from the audience singing and dancing their way to praise or embarrassment).
Some performances were either overwrought (too many synthesized strings and too much screaming on “Over the Rainbow,” which was brilliant in its understated reading by LaBelle last year) or underwhelming (“Somebody Loves You” is a slight song). But you come away from LaBelle’s performance with a renewed attitude and a renewed appreciation for this enduring R&B diva.