After the crowd roared with laughter, she smiled and said, “I’m just kidding.”
She proceeded to sing a slow and soulful version of “My Cup Runneth Over,” and that’s a good way to sum up the concert — Aretha’s cup does indeed runneth over, with talent and soul.
Aretha has 18 Grammy Awards, was the first female performer inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, was named by Rolling Stone magazine as the greatest singer of all time, and is the undisputed Queen of Soul.
With the concert drawing songs mostly from her prime mid-1960s to mid-’70s catalog, it was clear that all these accolades and more are well-deserved. And bean-counters will note that she’s been in the music business in some form for nearly 60 years, with her debut album Songs of Faith being recorded in 1956 when she was only 14 years old.
Aretha looked glamorous in a sparkly black dress and white pearl necklace, and was joined onstage by nearly 20 musicians conducted by arranger H.B. Barnum, including a 10-piece horn section.
And her voice? Not to worry. Aretha’s still got it going on at 73 years young.
A couple of her most beloved songs came early in the program — the funky women’s liberation anthem “Think” and her mega-hit single “Chain of Fools.” After the latter, it was announced that “The Queen needs to go have a sip of tea,” and the band played on while she recharged her vocal chords.
The Queen returned and said, “Have you been to church this week? For those of you who haven’t, we’re on our way now.” This led into the gospel song “Old Landmark,” which could only have been improved by having a real choir instead of taped backing vocals.
In fact, that’s about the only gripe that I can think of about the concert: Live background singers could’ve sent the songs into the stratosphere. Just think how good Aretha’s late sisters, Carolyn and Erma, and The Sweet Inspirations were in that role.
Aretha’s latest album, 2014’s Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, was nicely represented by a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” She then moved over to the piano for Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Trouble Water,” whose ending had a heartfelt, sung testimonial about her surgery in 2010, for which she “came out of the operating room with flying colors.”
The main set closed with “Freeway of Love,” an ’80s comeback song for Aretha that got the crowd really pumping. When she returned for a fiery encore take on her signature song “Respect,” it was pure bliss.
The Queen of Soul’s cup continues to runneth over. Long live the Queen!
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)
Ain’t no Way
Chain of Fools
(break, band kept playing)
If Ever I Would Leave You
I Will Survive
Bridge Over Troubled Water
My Cup Runneth Over
Freeway of Love
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.