|The view from the 5th row at the Honda Centre, Anaheim, June 3rd.|
It wasn’t just Barry Gibb I was lucky enough to see live in LA a couple of weeks ago, it was also Lionel Richie. Between the two of them, these genius pop songwriters have written 25 US#1 hits (16 for Barry, nine for Lionel) and it was a thrill to see them both on consecutive nights.
I’d missed out on Lionel’s recent NZ tour because of work commitments so it was a happy coincidence he was playing Anaheim (where Disneyland is, just out of LA) the night before Barry’s Hollywood Bowl concert.
Lionel at Auckland’s Vector Arena in 2007 is one of the great concerts of my life: sensational music performed by one of music’s most gregarious stars. With his Commodores catalogue included, Lionel Richie has made some of the finest pop, dance-pop, funk, soul, R&B, gospel, balladry and country of the past 40 years. His voice has a warmth and distinctiveness that still sets it apart.
Seven years on Lionel is still in fine voice and as charismatic in concert as ever. He is simultaneously confident of his upper-tier position in the pop music annals as well as self-aware enough to know his stock and trade is the not always cool romanticism of so many of his songs. Though as he often says, musings about love ultimately never go out of fashion.
|Dancing On The Ceiling, Anaheim.|
There is one small gripe though. For some years Lionel has been performing the same truncated versions of so many of his finest songs. When you’ve written more than two dozen top 10 hits, it’s understandable to have to find creative ways of including as much as possible into a two hour set. The issue I have is that the same shortened versions of Still, Sail On, Oh No, My Love and others have been in his repertoire for more than a decade. Lionel, these songs are too good and you are too good a performer to not honour them more.
Beyond those underutilized hits, if I was in Lionel’s ear I’d also remind him of the strength of his less-performed hits and album tracks. This doesn’t mean you ignore the hits, what it means is you sprinkle a rotating handful of your best lesser-known songs throughout your still hit-dominated set-lists. This keeps things fresh for both artist and audience while serving to strengthen the public standing of your artistry and catalogue.
So bring the house down with the funk of Slippery When Wet as well as Brick House, show them the social conscience of Heroes as well as We Are The World, give them the sadness of Can’t Get Over You as well as (the entire) Oh No, make them reminisce to Old Fashion Love as well as Easy, remind them of the reggae leanings of Se La as well as All Night Long and shake them up with a little gospel, whether it’s Jesus Is Love or Love Oh Love. The more you honour your outstanding catalogue the more casual fans you’ll convert into diehards.
|If it isn’t legendary producer Babyface in the row in front of us.|
Of course everyone thinks they’re an expert, myself included. In conclusion, here’s the inspiration for this article, 2012 home footage of Lionel and daughter Nicole at the piano playing his deeply beautiful, hardly heard 1996 ballad Climbing. Songs as melodic, emotive and cinematic as this deserve more than just home movies.
The full studio version of Climbing, from 1996’s Louder Than Words: