Review: Lionel Richie brings his hits to the Hollywood Bowl
Wearing a black leather jacket over black leather trousers, Lionel Richie stood on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl with his arms raised high over his head, as though he were an athlete or a military commander -- someone, at any rate, with a deep feeling of triumph.
Last year the veteran pop-soul singer scored his first No. 1 album in over a quarter-century with “Tuskegee,” on which he teamed with a number of country acts for new versions of his old hits: a duet with Willie Nelson on “Easy,” for instance, and “Endless Love” with Shania Twain filling in for Diana Ross.
The record sold more than 1 million copies and restored some of Richie’s musical reputation following a decade in which he was better known as the father of Nicole Richie, the socialite and reality television star.
It also set the table for the monthlong North American tour called All the Hits All Night Long that wrapped with a sold-out concert at the bowl on Friday.
Not that Richie was in a roots-music state of mind.
Backed by a slick five-piece band that included a saxophone player drawing directly from the “Miami Vice” playbook, the singer emphasized the sleek contours and genial lite-funk rhythms of the songs that made him one of the most visible artists of the 1980s; he even threw part of Van Halen’s “Jump” into “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
But “Tuskegee’s” surprising success appears to have reminded Richie of his ability to please an enormous crowd, and Friday he put the skill to use both during his songs and between them.
There were tender renditions of “Penny Lover” and “Say You, Say Me” for couples looking to slow dance; there was also a spirited take on “All Night Long (All Night)” for audience members who wanted to move faster.
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Richie satisfied those with long memories by reaching back to his days fronting the Commodores; “Three Times a Lady” had a stately elegance, while “Brick House” was brief but vivid.
And for younger people at the bowl such as friends of his children, say, whom he admitted might not be familiar with his work, he provided video projections that helped explain what his songs are about: a woman in a tutu during “Ballerina Girl” and folks hurrying down darkened New York City streets in “Running with the Night.” (“You Are” was accompanied by nature footage, though not explicitly showing the sun or the rain, as the song’s lyrics might’ve suggested.)
Midway through the two-hour show, he dismissed his band and sat down at a baby grand piano for a well-rehearsed bit in which he explained how three of his tunes -- “Still,” “Oh No” and “Stuck on You” -- demonstrated the way that Lionel Richie has always been there for lovers in various states of happiness and dejection.
And “Lionel Richie” is how he referred to himself, pushing his voice down into a lusty growl that communicated how pleased he was by what that name still meant. Winning suits him.
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