Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday night, me and a sold out crowd trekked to Harlem USA in a massive snowstorm for Labelle's opening night of their reunion tour. Their first concert in thirty-two years opened at the Apollo, bringing Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash back to their soul and funk roots. The legendary Whoopi Goldberg introduced the icons and within seconds they opened with their emotional rendition of "Miss Otis Regrets."
Song after song, Labelle proved thirty extra years ain't nothing. However, about twenty minutes into the show, the amplifiers blew out during "Candlelight," a song on their Back To Now album.
The Apollo is truly the wrong crowd to have microphones go out when some paid $200 for a ticket (it's good to have the perks of being a writer!). People chanted, "Fix that mike!" Neck rolling and shouting -- but what struck me was the professionalism of Labelle. Lawd knows, some of these artists of today (or even yesterday—you know I loves some Nina Simone but she would stomp off stage if the audience clapped too loud!) have no idea how to handle the unexpected on stage. Labelle absolutely would not leave the stage and tried to make it work, looking equally as disappointed as the crowd.
Eventually, they were instructed to take an "intermission" and hopefully the sound would be back up. Miss Patti was still reluctant to leave—they practically had to pull Patti-Patti off that stage. Now that is a performer -- this is a group who performed on the chitlin' circuit when they didn't even have microphones!
We waited over an hour and every 15 minutes or so some dude came on stage who stressed he didn't even work for the Apollo (great thing to say!), but there was a power surge that blew out the electricity. Right on cue, about 30 people from the crowd yelled, "Well, why the lights still on!"
Labelle eventually returned, but the sound didn't. Nona calmed the audience, reminding me of that scene from Selena when the crowd was rowdy, a few motions of the hands, everyone cooled down. Labelle sang two songs acapella with a choir—"(Can I Speak To You Before You Go To) Hollywood" and "What Can I Do For You." The ladies ripped it with just pure voice while Patti repeatedly apologized to the audience with her hands. The Apollo said they would honor our tickets for tomorrow night, same time.
Labelle returned on Saturday night (a raunchy Paul Mooney introduced them -- Lawd that grandma joke made the crowd gasp!) and opened with "Miss Otis Regrets" again. While I didn't think Patti could humanly sing that song any better than the previous night—Patricia Louise Holte annihilated that melody, as SoulBrotha said from last week, "TESTIFYIN' to you, the ancestors, Jesus, God and homeless aliens on Pluto!"
The harmonies were utopian, penetrating my tainted ears that's used to the tawdry vocals from the girl groups of the past ten to fifteen years. They sang songs like "You Turn Me On" and "Nightbirds," which was written in memory of Janis Joplin. It's almost impossible to see a show like this and appreciate the R&B-pop bummers of today. They either have no work ethic, can't sing, or just have no soul. Labelle has all three elements and proved it once again. It's never about endorsements, lip-synching, a pretty face, a cute hair cut, reality shows, or being "marketable." It's about the soul.
I am so grateful I was able to see Labelle perform live. Even if you don't know a lot of Labelle's music, it's a must to see these women in concert. Their next show in New York is February 26th at the Beacon Theatre. They will also be in Atlanta on Valentine's Day -- I know most of you are single, or will be by Valentine's Day, so this is the perfect outing for you!