In a line stretching to the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive, outside of West Hollywood’s Troubadour, a grandmother and her grandson anticipated the Tuesday night show by an artist both of them could appreciate. That artist was soul singer Lalah Hathaway, who played two back-to-back sets in front of sold-out audiences at the iconic standing-room-only venue, in service of recording her first-ever live album.
Besides the fact that live albums seem to have disappeared from the wheelhouse of popular music, the performance was sentimentally unique: the Grammy winner's father, Donny, recorded his memorable, two-sided “Live” album in the same space in 1972.
During the second show, starting just past 11 p.m., Hathaway took the stage to roaring applause — barefoot. After thanking the crowd for their support, she launched into a set of mainly oldies but goodies, backed by a seven-member band and three singers.
Staring up at the crooner in amazement, the faces in the audience took on expressions of bewilderment, ecstasy and deep contemplation as Hathaway performed renditions of her hits “When Your Life Was Low,” “Shine,” “I’m Coming Back” and “Baby Don’t Cry.”
But when she launched into a medley of songs from the '80s and '90s, like Luther Vandross' “Forever, For Always, For Love,” the crowd erupted, hands stretched toward the singer as if she were the Messiah. In the middle of it, she paused to thank special guests in attendance, Anita Baker and Patti LaBelle, the latter a day removed from her "Dancing With the Stars" elimination. (Also in attendance were gospel singers Erica Campbell and Deitrick Haddon.)
“It's a good thing I can't see you or I'd be crying,” she said to the pair from the stage. “I can't thank you enough.”
She then performed Baker’s “Angel” as the industry veterans seated above took to their feet.
Still, the cover of one of her father’s signature songs, “A Song for You,” received the greatest response. Both Baker and LaBelle cupped their hands over their faces as Hathaway performed.
At the end of the show, which finished just after 1 a.m., Hathaway spoke with The Times about the experience.
Fresh off the stage, how do you feel about what just took place?
I feel so empowered and loved and overwhelmed. It’s a surreal feeling.
When you were walking to the stage, in the very place your father performed, what was going through your mind?
It’s hard to describe. I’ve played a lot of places where he played or might’ve played, but this place is special because this is where he recorded his live record and that’s what I came to do. It was a surreal experience, even coming for the sound check. To know he was in these rooms and in these halls, it’s something else.
What is something you hope people take away from your music and this experience?
I really hope they need it in 35 years the same way they need “Donny Hathaway Live.” That’s a record I don’t leave my house without. It’s in my iPod or my phone or something. Those are the types of records I want to make.
Do you think that the industry, in general, is producing those tracks that we will still want to hear in years to come?
Some of it, yes. And it will always be that way. There will always be soul music, real music. There will always be real musicians that power this business. As long as it’s out there, people will find it.
Why are R&B and soul music so important?
Rhythm and Blues music, soul music, it really was the beginning, in popular culture, of telling the story of black Americans in this country. Then it became telling the story of Americans in this country. That music never dies. Folk music, country music, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, that music can never die because it tells the story of people. So, if people say it’s dead, they’re just not looking. It’s there. It will always be there as long as we’re there.
What do you say to your fans who have supported you this long?
I just love them. They’re so loyal. They’ve been with me for 25 years. I communicate with them everyday on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and I broadcast on Periscope. I hope that they know how much I appreciate them.