Few performers are more qualified to conduct a mic drop than Patti LaBelle. When the vocalist intentionally let her microphone fall to the stage floor of Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the conclusion of an electrifying version of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” on Friday, the theatrical gesture was completely earned.
An audience of more than 1,200 witnessed LaBelle pour everything she had into the soul standard. Seemingly overcome by emotion, she leaned on pianist John Stanley’s instrument for support. After crying that she “changed my wig, changed my dress and changed my shoes” to please an unappreciative partner, she violently kicked off her shoes, sending them soaring across the stage, before releasing her microphone.
The 90-minute concert was filled with similarly ostentatious flourishes and correspondingly grandiose vocals. With the girl group the Bluebelles, the funk and disco hit-makers LaBelle and as a solo artist, LaBelle has been dazzling listeners with her astringent voice and authoritative stage presence for more than 50 years.
LaBelle noted that she was “seventy-two years young,” but her ear-splitting voice remains superior to the instruments of younger acolytes like Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande. Fans gasped in a combination of admiration and dismay every time LaBelle hit a punishing high note.
While LaBelle’s impressive range is intact, her stamina may be flagging. She allowed three background singers to dominate several selections, saving her strength for splashy vocal runs. She also gave her seven additional backing musicians plenty of room to stretch out, an unwelcome development for an artist with decades of essential material.
A few of LaBelle’s solo hits have aged poorly. Fresh arrangements liberated “New Attitude” and “Stir It Up” from their original dated production. Songs that were already perfect, including the lush 1983 hit “If Only You Knew,” were more faithfully rendered.
LaBelle’s antics were almost as absorbing as her music. She applied lipstick before crooning the sublime slow jam “Love, Need and Want You,” spritzed herself and people in the front row with perfume during “When You Talk About Love” and repeatedly admired her visage with a vanity mirror. It’s unclear why she hurled a microphone stand like a javelin following a ravishing treatment of “Over the Rainbow.”
A video montage of departed notables like Sarah Vaughan and Marvin Gaye accompanied LaBelle’s final selection “You Are My Friend.” While Friday’s appearance indicated that LaBelle still has plenty of life left in her, there’s no question that she’ll eventually join the pantheon of immortal entertainers.
If Only You Knew
If You Asked Me To
Why I Love You
Love, Need and Want You
Stir It Up
Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)
Since I Don’t Have You
When You Talk About Love/Love and Happiness
On My Own
If You Don’t Know Me By Now
I Keep Forgetting
Over the Rainbow
You Are My Friend