EmptyNokia Theatre, Los Angeles
Thursday, Feb. 14
Memo to Beyonce and her father: Yes, Tina Turner is one of the greats, but Aretha Franklin is still the queen -- of soul and more. A full house of loyal subjects agreed during the first of two nights Thursday at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, giving her all the R-E-S-P-E-C-T she deserves.
Coming off a week of Grammy and NAACP honors, the Valentine's Day show was a lovefest between the legend and fans, with plenty of standing ovations, cheers and shouts for the all-time favorite numbers. Franklin wore a pink gown and matching wrap for the occasion, leading off with a jubilant version of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" followed by an appropriate "My Funny Valentine," given a torch-to-R&B bluster treatment.
With five backing vocalists and a large orchestra that included a horn section, the arrangements at times were too busy and, yes, over the top, as on "A House Is Not a Home." The performance also was somewhat old-fashioned; the star was led out as the band vamped on jazz and R&B, and she later went offstage while the band played on its own again, then returned.
Although her voice isn't quite the powerhouse it was a couple decades back, it's still an amazing instrument -- combined with technique. That's what contemporary stars, from Beyonce to Mariah and so on, don't comprehend: It's not about showboat note-holding and bending around the lyric. It's all in the delivery, and Franklin can still belt like nobody's business, yet she also knows how to hold back.
The classics were winning as ever, such as "Think" and later "Chain of Fools," which was kicked off by her son Teddy on guitar. Seated at the piano -- and still quite the ivory tickler herself -- she took Simon & Garfunkel's already-spiritual "Bridge Over Troubled Water" right into church.
Of course, her signature song, the Otis Redding-penned "Respect," brought the crowd ranging from seniors down to college-age kids to its feet, as did a final gospel climax that included a white-robed choir.
Some songs were MIA: Surprisingly, no "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" or the 1980s hits "Jump to It" and "Freeway of Love." But during numbers like "Ain't No Way," dating back to her 1968 "Lady Soul" album, she showed that she's indeed still the Queen, and while the kingdom is no longer the same, she's not quite ready to step down from that throne yet.