A few weeks off of rest and relaxation proved just the tonic for Aretha Franklin last night. The 69 year old Queen of Soul, newly slimmed down, sang like she was 39 and moved around the stage with more agility than most of her new young wannabe divas. Sheathed in the same white and gown she wore to her recent birthday party, Franklin shimmied and shook, told jokes, gave call outs and reminisced a bit in front a wildly enthusiastic, jam packed audience. One woman held up a sign indicating that seeing Franklin had been on her Bucket List and was now fulfilled. The nearly two hour show had just one break, after Franklin ripped through a series of hits including “Daydreaming,” “Jump to It,” and “Think.” While her exceptional band/orchestra presented a rave up of Stevie Wonder’s “Always,” Franklin got a sip of water and cooled off. Then she came roaring back and didn’t leave until the crowd was on its feet, begging for more.
She nearly stopped the show cold, though, when she said: “I guess you heard about Muhammad Ali.” The audience got nervous she was just about to announce something sad, when Franklin launched into a bit of a joke: “A flight attendant asked him to put on his seatbelt. He told her, Superman don’t need no seat belt. And now we’ve got fasten our seat belts.” Out came “Chain of Fools” and a half dozen more hits culminating in covers of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood,” and the most spectacular rave up of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Franklin glided over to the piano and commanded the orchestra through a churchly rendering of the Paul Simon song better even than her original recording.
By the time Franklin got to her encore of “Respect,” it was quite clear that she’d executed a memorable show in a venue where she’d never before performed. Although supermarket tabloids have her making out her last will and testament, the fact is that Franklin, a true soul survivor, is better than ever. Her voice has regained its suppleness. She’s no longer straining for notes or getting winded. If anything, she seems ready to record more and more. After the show she met with a gang from what she called her “alma mater”–Atlantic Records–Craig Kallman, Pete Ganbarg, and their new “find”–Rumer, a young Adele-like singer from the UK who’s just issued her first single, titled, appropriately, “Aretha.” She told the guys that she’s looking to hire some execs for her Aretha’s Records, which just issued her Walmart album, “A Woman Falling Out of Love.” Aretha Franklin is alive, and kicking, kids, And don’t you forget it.