Funked-up Newt gets down with Lionel Richie, gets back up again


chris cameron photo


By Steve Newton

There are two kinds of songs that Lionel Richie can perform as well, if not better, than anyone else in the music world. One is the poignant, yearning love ballad, the type that can choke up even hardened ex-cons with its tender melody and sentimental tone. The other is the funky, upbeat stomper that goes for the toes.

At the Pacific Coliseum on Monday (December 15), Richie did both for a sell-out crowd, and–with the help of a sterling band, slick choreography, and great sound–put on quite a show indeed.

The concert opened with drummer Ricky Lawson’s kit sliding to one side, and Richie’s grand piano rising in its place, sliding to the front of the stage, tilting forward, and playing–by itself–the intro to one of his best-loved ballads. “Hello,” Lionel sang as he slipped onstage, “is it me you’re looking for?”

It sure was. The crowd erupted at the sight of their hero decked out in a flashy black ‘n’ white checked suit with sequined lapels. The guy looked cool, no doubt about it, and when he started into “All Night Long” his seven-piece band raced on stage looking equally sharp. And the group–which included Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden, Pointer Sisters bassist Don Boyette, and Vancouver native Randy Stern on keys–sounded pretty damn good, too!

When Lionel started into the love song “Truly”, the first of many bouquets were passed up to him, and they kept coming during a medley that included the Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady” and his biggest heart-tugger, “Endless Love”. For the country flavoured “Deep River Woman”, Richie was accompanied–via video screen–by the group Alabama. The last time he played Vancouver, Richie pulled the same trick, singing to an image of Diana Ross. (That was two years ago, and his warmup act at that time was, believe it or not, Tina Turner.)

On “Se La”, a reggae tune from his latest LP Dancing On the Ceiling, Lionel brought out Prince protege Sheila E., who had earlier wooed the crowd with a lively opening set. She looked dazzling in a sequined gold pantsuit, and played percussion on Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” before singing a duet with googoo-eyed Richie.

After breaking a few more hearts with “Lady”, Lionel went into a long spiel about how fortunate he was–how fortunate we all were–and how we should all help each other out to make the world a better place. When the sermon was over he headed offstage, returning for the highly anticipated encore of “Dancing On the Ceiling”. A super tune, it really got the place hopping, and three of the band members started flying around on wires attached to their waists, dancing upside-down like they do in the song’s video.

It was a rather neat surprise ending to a show that few Lionel Richie fans could complain about.

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