Aretha Franklin sold out Mohegan Sun’s Arena on New Year’s Day night to the point where the 7,000 seat venue had to add about 300 seats. They couldn’t accommodate the sudden interest in the Queen of Soul following her Kennedy Center TV appearance this week. The audience roared when she began Carole King’s “Natural Woman,” which Franklin usually puts fourth or fifth in her set. (“And it’s 50 years old!” Aretha said to me after the show.)
The concert itself was so powerful and intense that it surprised even Franklin, who came out of the gate exactly on time at 8pm and launched into “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” her George Michael hit from the 80s. She hadn’t included it in a show in some time. That was followed by a sensational rending of another hit, Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me.” The audience was buzzing loudly.
But nothing prepared any of us for Aretha sitting down at the piano and giving tribute to Natalie Cole with a beautiful rendition of “Inseparable.”
“We will always remember this very classy and sophisticated lady,” Aretha said, making reference to Cole’s hit 1976 record, “Sophisticated Lady,” for which she won a Grammy Award.
Aretha’s Mohegan Sun show was one of those nights people will be talking about for a long time. She also delivered “Chain of Fools,” “Freeway of Love,” her trademark gospel piano take on “Bridge over Troubled Water,” the iridescent “My Cup Runneth Over,” plus “Don’t Play That Song for Me.” She ended with “Respect,” which always brings the house down, but then surprised one and all with “Auld Lang Syne,” from the piano bench, replete with confetti.
The legendary H.B. Barnum (80 years old and going strong– an understatement) led the orchestra as usual, with Richard Gibbs on piano, and backup vocals from Fonzie Thornton, Vaneese Thomas, and Brenda White-King, and a complement of ace musicians and horn players that sent chills up the spine.
There is no other 73 year old grandmother who can scat, sashay and testify like Aretha Franklin and appear more relevant than any 20 something on the road today. She’s in a class of her own.
PS Her version last night of “Natural Woman” –sung live– should be mixed and put on iTunes ASAP, I think. After the Kennedy Center show, the 1968 hit really is a “overnight sensation.”