Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015

Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015Lionel Richie + Larissa @ Barclaycard Arena, 14th March 2015

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I worry for the future of pop music.  I worry that due to the throwaway culture of pop music today; we are no longer creating the legends of the future.  Legends like Lionel Richie.  When I grew up in the 1970’s Lionel Richie was a star, then through the 1980’s he became a superstar and now he is a legend.  Who from today’s charts will have the talent and the support to still be filling arenas in 30 years’ time?  You may ask, does that matter and I guess in the overall scheme it doesn’t.  However, there is something beautiful about sharing your life’s journey with someone with the originality, soul and vision to map that journey with wonderful songs: and that is what Mr. Richie has done.

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Support tonight is Larissa, a strange mixture of runaway bride, indie-chic and pop diva.  She has a pop sensibility but is backed by a Black Keys/Royal Blood-esque guitar and drum indie combo. It kind of works but not quite, as it is neither pop nor indie: it looks indie-ish, but is unquestionably safe pop.  Never has a singer sung so well with not a note out of place that I have enjoyed so little. You cannot fault Larissa’s voice but I just didn’t believe she had an ounce of soul in any word she sang.  I think the phrase is ‘over-egging the pudding’ – indeed her version of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ in particular is like a Carol Decker tribute.  No light and shade – just shouting, growling and warbling.  So technically I give top marks.  For heart and soul I am only convinced that she just believes in filling the boots of Jessie J and her ilk and not being a true artist.  Saying all that, Larissa certainly warmed the crowd with her brand of inoffensive pop and managed a little audience interaction and even a guitar and drum solo – it really did feel like a showcase for record company executives though and just left me cold.

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Due to an air travel problem, Lionel is delayed for 45 minutes.  This information is relayed over the PA after he is 15 minutes late, saying it will only be another 15 minutes, but the minutes drag and it becomes another 15 minutes, but the audience remains unnaturally restrained.  Normally crowds are banging their feet and slow hand clapping.. oh spoke too soon here come the hand claps, but only for a moment and then the crowd are back to sitting quietly.  The arena must be pumping soothing gas through the air con.  But here comes the Mexican waves, the gas wears off and the stamping starts. Come on Lionel!

Finally, as the Barclaycard Arena seats really start to feel small and hard, Mr. Richie bounds on stage with his characteristic wide smile.  Two hours later and a music history lesson over, you realise that you haven’t felt the chair under your bottom because you have been on your feet.  Lionel Richie delivers his pop sermon like a preacher (think James Brown in The Blues Brothers), and manages to convert the entire arena.. well almost.

There is not an empty seat in the gaping, cavernous hall and when Lionel oozes his way through some of the silkiest, sugarcoated love songs of the last 40 years, you see the entire crowd lit up by phone torches.  ‘Say You, Say Me’ in particular makes the audience look like a night’s sky.  When the cameraman filming the show for the massive video screens that surround the stage stands behind the band, Lionel is framed by the tens of thousands of lights blinking in front of him.  It is a stunning sight.

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The massively competent band and singer power through all of Mr. Richie’s hits spanning a career from The Commodores, to his solo career, to the point now where he does not dent the pop charts… and although he has not had a bona fide hit record since ‘My Destiny’ in 1992, the mass of work before that means it does not matter at all.

Despite the wonder of Richie’s spectacle, and despite his talent for squeezing teardrops out of your eyes with little effort, I still have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  And it is this:  Lionel Richie is professionally personable, meaning he knows how to appear likeable: you immediately gravitate to him because he seems so nice.  You believe he could be your best friend because you have spent your life seemingly going through the same ups and downs.  But my only criticism is that he appears to me as over professional – every line of banter is delivered like it is every night, and it seems fresh because he is so well rehearsed.  I had hoped throughout the two hour set, that he would take a moment to say sorry for his 45 minute delay on stage and give us a personal insight into the life of a megastar; an anecdote that everyone in the crowd would have gobbled up.  But no, that story is not in the rehearsed show and he clearly did not feel his delayed start warranted an explanation.  For me, I am growing increasingly tired of witnessing these impersonal, juggernaut performances (once the show starts, it cannot stop until it is done).  I long for performers to be human again, to make mistakes, to fall over and say ‘Ow that hurt, shall I start again’ – to make me feel I am witnessing something unique.  Pop music is nothing more than the shopping malls across the world – they all look, sound and feel exactly the same.

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Highlights of the night have to be when Lionel Richie sits behind the piano and starts to play his ballads on his own: ‘Easy’, ‘Still’, ‘Stuck On You’, ‘Three Times A Lady’ and ‘Sail On’  It is during these quiet tracks that you really get to appreciate Lionel’s voice – it may be a little less silky than in 1975, but it is still powerful, soulful and note perfect throughout.  Also the crowd singing along to replace Diana Ross on ‘Endless Love’ found me singing my heart out (always a great karaoke track).  Lionel is pretty good too.

Low moment of the evening (and I am sure, I am the only one who thinks this), is the last song, where as if to get extra points with the crowd (not that it is needed as they love him), he brings up the song he wrote with Michael Jackson when they tried to save the world (but inevitably didn’t): ‘We Are the World’.  These things may have been done with the best intentions, but the cynic in me believes the song did more for the artists than it did for those it was supposed to save.  And as Lionel correctly states, the world is in a worse position now than in 1984.

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And that is it – Lionel is gone, without a word of apology for being late and leaving a fair few of his fans missing the last 30 minutes of the gig due to last trains.  They will be naturally annoyed to discover that Lionel was spotted in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon, so maybe the delayed plane story was a fabrication.  I am just annoyed that walking back to the car I am still humming the terrible ‘We Are the World’, when it is more natural to be singing ‘Easy like Sunday morning’, as it is almost midnight and Sunday is here already.

 

Setlist:

All Around The World

Penny Lover

Easy / My Love

Ballerina Girl

Running With The Night

Still

Oh No

Stuck On You

Brickhouse / Skintight / Fire

Three Times A Lady

Sail On

Lady You Bring Me Up

Endless Love

Angel / Don’t Stop / Destiny

Say You Say Me

Dancing on the Ceiling

Hello

All Night Long

We Are The World

 

Review: Alan Neilson

Photographs: Steve Roche

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