by Michael P. Coleman
I first saw Lionel Richie live in 1983, at the dawn of his solo career. Just a few months later, his “All Night Long” and Can’t Slow Down album catapulted his career into the stratosphere. As I prepared to head over to Sunday’s concert in Concord, I was curious about whether the five time Grammy winner still had “it”.
Richie took the stage at about 8:45pm with an energetic “All Around The World”, and quickly proved that he intended on delivering his promise of “All The Hits, All Night Long”. The first of many audience pleasers was a creative medley of his “Easy” and “My Love”, the former being one of many Commodores tunes he performed. The medley was followed by everything else you’d want to hear from Richie. “You Are”, “Truly”, and “Running With The Night” were followed by a real treat: Richie’s performance of “Still”, “Oh, No”, and “Stuck On You” proceeded by his recollections of the inspirations for those songs. He followed it with a spirited “Dancing On The Ceiling” that closed out the first set and left the capacity crowd singing, dancing and demanding more.
After a quick break, Richie returned with another Commodores smash, “Three Times A Lady”, telling the crowd that his father’s toast to his mother was the inspiration for the song and that his dad had spent every waking minute of the rest of his life “looking for his money”. Throughout the show, Richie’s warm baritone was as engaging and heartfelt on the ballads as it was spirited and funky on dance tunes like “Lady You Bring Me Up”, “Brick House” and his closer “All Night Long”.
Richie literally shut the house down a couple of times, once when over the opening strains of “Endless Love” he joked that he’d called superstar Diana Ross and invited her to join him in Concord. The crowd roared in anticipation — before laughing after he said “She said she couldn’t make it. She had to go to a family BBQ.” Richie then invited the “10,000 women in the audience to stand in for Ross. They took him up on it, and collectively provided one of the evening’s truly magical moments.
Other highlights included Richie’s stunning version of “Hello”, and his encore “We Are The World”, which he said is his personal favorite of all of his compositions. Richie reminded us that he’d written the song with the late Michael Jackson, looked skyward as he sang the verse and invited the entire audience to sing along with him on the well-known chorus. It was moving when 40+ superstars recorded the song in 1985, but it had a new resonance under the stars in Concord, with 20,000 singing “It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.”
Thirty one years is a long time between shows, and Richie appearance and vocal chords don’t seem to have aged more than 5 or 10 of them, and he seemed genuinely moved that his audience had “stayed around so long”. He warmly thanked Concord at the end of this third of 38 north American stops this summer, adding “I don’t know how the rest of the tour is going to go, but if those other cities are gonna kick your asses, they have their work cut out for them!”
I only wish opening act Ceelo Green had been as good as Richie was. Green opened the show with the proclamation that he was “just the appetizer, before the night’s main course.” No more accurate statement has ever been made. Green’s vocals were strong, but he never quite engaged the audience as he performed some originals and other covers, before his own “Forget You”. He seemed a bit disinterested at the beginning of the set, checking his cell phone repeatedly and taking a call on stage. I’d hoped it was a Morris Day-type gimmick but, alas, he was actually taking a call! Later, he seem a bit perturbed that the audience really didn’t seem with him. Perhaps it was his opening — once you tell an audience you’re “less than”, they start to believe you. Hopefully, he’ll learn a thing or two about engaging an audience from Richie during this tour.
Michael P. Coleman is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California. If it’s him you’re looking for, head to michaelpcoleman.com, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP.
Photos courtesy of Jimmy Le.