You know it’s a good night when Aretha Franklin not only sells out Radio City Music Hall but hires an 11-piece horn section to augment her own splendid orchestra.
And so the Queen of Soul stormed the stage at New York’s premier concert hall on Friday night, awash in black crepe, a shortish haircut, and a voice that was ready to be let loose on the world. It was the second of two nights at Radio City, but Aretha made it seem fresh and new.
Her 90-minute show covered lots of hits, from “Respect” to “Baby I Love You,” “Daydreamin’” and “Angel.” They were the full versions, too, no medleys or sing-a-longs. Beautiful. Franklin stopped the show with “Don’t Play That Song for Me” (recently revived by Sam Moore), which was co-written by the late Ahmet Ertegun. On her own “Call Me,” she swooped and trilled like it was 40 years ago.
There were also the big ballads, like the moving “One Night With the King.” And she’s added the key song from the musical “Sunset Boulevard,” “It’s as if We Never Said Goodbye.” Great choice. She even introduced a “celebrity” in the audience — the man who drove her tour bus more than 30 years ago. Aretha reminisced off the cuff about keeping the man awake so he wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel on long overnight drives.
Franklin made just one mini intermission, doing a quick change, allowing H.B. Barnum’s orchestra — featuring Franklin’s son Teddy Richards – to let loose on a jammin’ jazz version of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Another Star.”
No, it wasn’t a night for “Until You Come Back to Me” or “Nessum Dorma.” But it was a chance to go to church as Aretha took over the piano to play gospel improvisations and lead the band through parts of her “Amazing Grace” album. This is the Aretha we love the best, where genius just oozes into the keys and her whole Memphis/Detroit background comes pouring out. There’s nothing and no one else like it. Amen. She’s 67 and she just keeps getting better!
Now it’s time for a new Aretha album. Clive Davis, are you listening? It’s time to catch lightning in a bottle.