HUB CONCERT REVIEW Ruben Studdard In Sacramento, Remembering Luther Vandross: “I’m right where I need to be”

HUB CONCERT REVIEW Ruben Studdard In Sacramento, Remembering Luther Vandross:  “I’m right where I need to be” Photo Credit Borelfoto.com

by Michael P Coleman

“Let me go ahead and give the people what they want.” 

Photo Credit Borelfoto.com

It’s a time-worn show business axiom, repeated by R & B and gospel star Ruben Studdard to a near-capacity crowd at the historic Crest Theatre last night.  Bowing to years of popular demand, Studdard is touring the country in support of his excellent new Luther Vandross tribute album, Ruben Sings Luther, and he kicked the tour off in Sacramento.  

Studdard has been compared to Vandross from the very beginning of his career.  In fact, I argue that it was his version of Vandross’ “Superstar” that earned him the top prize on American Idol.  His initial recording of that song also earned him a Grammy nomination, but by and large, the Velvet Teddy Bear has steered clear of the monumental task of covering the incomparable Vandross. 

Fans of Vandross’ can breathe a sigh of relief.  The legend’s catalog is in very good hands.  And fans of Studdard’s can rejoice — as we all did last night — in the knowledge that the lovable guy who won American Idol 15 years ago has grown up. 

“I want to tell you baby, the changes I’ve been going through…” Studdard’s commanding tenor rang out to open the show, just before he stepped on stage in a scarlet dinner jacket, in classic Vandross style.  Joining three capable background singers and a tight five piece band, Studdard let us know that he knew what he was doing, with “Give Me The Reason” and “Stop To Love” in quick succession, followed by the first of the night’s vocal triumphs, “Don’t You Know That.”   Sacramento was ready to go deep into Vandross’ catalog. 

Photo Credit Coleman Communications

Studdard didn’t let us down. “If Only For One Night / Creepin’.”  “If This World Were Mine.”  “Bad Boy / Having A Party.”  “Here & Now.”  “Any Love.”  “So Amazing.”  It was a night of music and memories, perfectly punctuated by a spot-on, flat-footed, blazingly-hot version of the “Superstar” he’d teased at the top of the show. 

“I’m gonna take my time with this one.  Is that alright?” Studdard asked as he effortlessly waded into the classic’s complex melody. 

Yes, Ruben.  Take your time.  Sing your song. 

Near the end of the 90 minute show, Studdard took us back even further, to his church roots with a reverent rendition of his own gospel hit, “I Need An Angel.”  As beautiful and moving as the performance was, it was a bit of a diversion.  Studdard sings Vandross’ hits so well, the crowd was ready to hear more of them.  And once again, Studdard gave the people what they wanted. 

Ruben Studdard
Photo Credit Borelfoto.com

Flashing his trademark megawatt smile, he warmly thanked his fans before singing “When I say goodbye, it’s never for long…” opening “Power Of Love.”  By the time he was done, the song was akin to a gospel barn-burner, with the crowd on their feet and dancing in the aisles.  Studdard wrapped the show up with “Never Too Much,” a fitting close to a night that ended too soon. 

As flattering as the comparison to Vandross is, it’s also a bit reductive.  Studdard has grown into a stunningly brilliant interpretative stylist in his own right, and it was thrilling to watch him command his place in a legacy of soul titans like Vandross, Peabo Bryson, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke and others. 

Yes, Studdard is that good.  After fifteen years honing his craft, he’s even better than he was on Idol.

On the way back to our cars, several concert goers shared surprise that Studdard didn’t sing one of Vandross’ signature hits, “A House Is Not A Home.”  As Vandross had so many beloved hits, it would have been impossible for Studdard to have sung them all.  Hopefully, there’s another album of Vandross tributes in Studdard’s future, and maybe he’ll come back and share them with us. 

I think I’ll paraphrase Vandross in reflecting on that prospect:  Mr. Studdard, when it comes to Ruben singing Luther, Sacramento can never have too much. 

Information on Studdard’s Always & Forever Tour and the new album is available at rubensingsluther.com.

 Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.