Patti Labelle wows with powerhouse performance at State Fair

Arts no chaser

Patti LaBelle has still got it. In spades. The world-class vocalist aired her pipes in fine fashion at the Minnesota State Fair, September 2, reminding a raptly attentive audience just what true soul singing is all about. LaBelle continually roamed the stage, dancing like she was at somebody’s party (at one point the crowd chanted “Go Patti! Go Patti!”), and gave a powerhouse performance.

This ageless veteran could show today’s gimmick-prone superstars — who rely on smoke and lights to deliver more sizzle than steak — what it means to give the money-paying public your artistic all.

Soon as the great lady hit the stage, the crowd, of course, went crazy. Anyone who has seen her before knew the kind of treat they had in store. Those for whom it was the first time, were eager with anticipation. Once she launched into song — that keening voice not losing one bit of the soaring range for which she’s famous — everyone was on their feet, having a fine time.

She couldn’t squeeze in everybody’s favorites, but must-haves like “New Attitude,” “On My Own,” and “If Only You Knew” made the list. Throughout she was characteristically the down-to-earth personality fans have come to adore. She was so warm and off-the-cuff it felt as though she could’ve been singing in your living room — idly shooting the breeze between numbers, cracking jokes, and emoting with such heartfelt feeling the fella sitting next to me was repeatedly moved to tears.

Her cover of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” was an absolute show-stopper. She started the number actually not even facing the audience, as she hunched over her musical director, working herself up into a heated state. Reaching fever-pitch, she went off-book, vamping on the lyrics, singing so stridently she just about testified, taking the whole place straight to church.

Crossing to one end of the stage, she kicked off her high heels, and barefoot, carried on so that she might as well have been calling and shouting on her back porch.

The set was not flawless. She didn’t sing “Lady Marmalade,” but turned it into open-mic-amateur-hour, bringing three men on stage, one of whom made nails scraping on a blackboard sound melodic. From there she closed with a forgettable rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (not every song is suited to a gospel arrangement).

As for the opening act, you should know when your day has come and gone. For The Commodores, that happened as soon as Lionel Ritchie deserted them to go solo. Their show was a slick, forced, rehashing of their hits with stage antics steeped in almost clownish overkill.  The most glaring aspect was how distinctive Ritchie’s vocals were in comparison. Instead of turning in a performance deserving of one of the best remembered groups in Motown’s history, they were a pathetic approximation thereof, just something to sit through until Patti LaBelle came on.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a perfect evening, but suffice to say it’s a good thing the show was done outdoors or Patti LaBelle would have blown the roof off.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.