Soul music legends Richie snd Earth, Wind, and Fire are currently on a nationwide arena tour
It was a night packed with soul music in the at Capital One Arena in DC on Friday (Aug 18th). Two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers comprised this co-headline bill called the 2023 Sing A Song All Night Long Tour.
First up were Earth, Wind, and Fire (EWF). Phillip Bailey’s legendary falsetto is still in pristine condition, some 50-plus years after EWF first mixed high harmonies and a funky groove. He stunned the crowd by reaching the edge of his multi-octave range on “Kalimba Story” without cracking.
But the showstopper was bass player Verdine White, brother of late lead singer and EWF founder Maurice White. Verdine felt every note he plucked out, taking center stage to let the music move him on a super fun solo. His infectious smile and silky hair reaching the back row.
EWF’s set was a trip back to the 70’s, with matching stage close and bell bottoms that would have been right at home back then. The band was clearly using costuming to communicate the timelessness of their music. another throwback. Rather than loop any element of their music—as has become too common a trend—EWF has elected to travel with full percussion and horn sections. Of course, earworm “September” had everyone up and partying.
Early on in their set, Bailey told the DC crowd, “You embraced us first,” way back when they were starting out. By the looks of it, the DMV has stayed loyal to the group for over half a century.
Lionel Richie emerged in a white band-leader type coat shortly after 9:15. Richie’s charisma radiated from the first notes of “Hello,” which the crowd sang back almost louder than the crooner himself.
Richie is one of only a handful of Motown-era artists still performing at the arena level. His songs have crossed from being soul music standards into being a part of American pop culture. Hear Richie’s name and what comes to mind? Is it a moment with your lover listening to “Easy,” or is it that time you were three strong drinks in at a wedding and “Brick House” came on, your tie came off, and you got down on the dance floor? We all have a “Lionel Richie moment.”
This is something the Oscar-winner knows. He’s leaned into it for this tour, labeling it, “Sing along All Night Long.” Every hit was present in the 20-song set, including a buoyant rendition of this reporter’s favorite, “Dancin’ on the Ceiling.” (My Lionel Richie moment: “Dancin’” was my “Lincoln tunnel song”—I listened to it every trip to NYC growing up. I’d start it when we hit the tunnel, and by the time we reached the other side, the song had hit its final note. A bus ride tradition. I know. I’m weird.)
Richie’s vocals are timeless. Rich and buttery, yet knowing. His register plants his voice squarely in the middle. Not Luther Vandross low, nor Phillip Bailey high, it’s the perfect voice for the emotions in songs like “Just to Be Close to You,” or the desire in “All Night Long.”
On this night however, Richie seemed to be plagued by audio issues with his microphone. There was a muffling affect that was nearly unbearable to listen to when he talked, and distorted is strong singing unnecessarily. It’s unclear if this was an intentional effect in the microphone, or the result of a blown subwoofer or speaker stack. We’ve reached out to Live Nation and Richie’s team over Twitter for comment, and will follow up next week. (My endless curiosity needs to know what this was.) l am hoping it was an unfortunate glitch, with Richie pressing on as the pro he is.
Richie stopped down the show to talk to a young kid, telling him, “what you’re seeing is grown people losing their minds and acting crazy.” He continued to joke, “Everything they tell you not to do, they’re doing tonight.” This observation was met with cheers and laughter.
Richie stacked the middle of his show with Commodore hits. “Fancy Dancer” followed “Three Times a Lady,” and Richie said that “Zoom” was written at a time when he wasn’t sure which direction his life would take. What’s clear is that several decades later, this music is still very personal for Lionel Richie.
The highlight of the night came in the last song of the main set, when Richie performed the storied USA for Africa charity single, “We Are the World.” It’s a staple of his shows that, he once told CBS News, he considered “Michael Jackson’s song.” He said he felt it appropriate to pick up the mantle when Jackson passed. The song is in perfect hands to live on.
By the time Richie reached his seminal song, “All Night Long,” it was clear that 20,000 people in DC would indeed be singing the rest of the night. For they had all had a “Lionel Richie moment” with the man himself.