When it was announced that Lionel Richie would be performing at Red Rocks, almost 6 months ago, I felt an excitement that couldn’t be explained. Sure, I am somewhat of a Red Rocks junkie, and it was the first big show of the season to be announced, but that didn’t explain my level of enthusiasm to fork over hard earned cash for a pair of tickets to see a man I hadn’t much thought about since the Can’t Slow Down album arrived as part of my “12 Albums for a Penny” deal from the TV Guide. I won’t say I had buyer’s remorse (about the tickets, not the Columbia House scam), but I did find myself questioning the way I blindly threw my money at an artist who had probably peaked before I hit puberty. But then I revisited the music and I remembered why I was excited about the show. Not just the songs from Can’t Slow Down, but the hours of countless hits. The childhood memories (good and bad) came flooding back, as if the songs were a direct pipeline to the Reagan Era. Lionel Richie was very different stylistically, but a quick Spotify journey through a few Greatest Hits collections will leave no doubt that Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna did not own 80’s pop music alone. Lionel’s personality might not have been as bold as those he shared the charts with, but just try listening to one his songs without singing along. Sure, he might have stalked that blind girl in that video with the grotesque bust of his head, but at the same time he was quietly recording hit after hit after hit after hit…and then he was quietly forgotten for many years.
Wikipedia will verify that Lionel Richie released seven studio albums after Dancing on the Ceiling, but if anyone was paying attention, I wasn’t around to notice them paying attention. In fact, if this tour was named after his latest ‘country’ album, I doubt I would have even considered going. It was the headline that got me: “All the Hits All Night Long”. First of all, it’s all the hits. Secondly, the words ‘all’, ‘night’ and ‘long’ become more than just words when they are placed next to the name Lionel Richie. They become music (play on). They become Parti’. They become Karamu’. They become Fiesta. They are forever. They will make you want to come on and sing his song…all night long! (all night), ooh (all night)…
And that’s exactly what 9,450 people did at Red Rocks last night. As it turned out, I was not alone with my unexplained enthusiasm. There were the old timers who were hoping for their wedding song. There were the kids who were the result of an easy, sunday morning. There were those, like me, who can’t help but love the cheesy soft rock sounds that came before I discovered punk, rap and heavy metal. There were also the hipsters, who were there for the irony — those who think he’s cool because he’s so uncool. Lucky for all of us, the man fed off all this enthusiasm and gave us the performance we would have been naive to have expected. Even the hipsters were singing and dancing so much that they forgot to laugh and snicker. I’m not sure what Lionel Richie has been doing since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but whatever it is, it is working in his favor.
The evening started with rain. The sky was black with stubborn clouds that showed no sign of leaving us in peace. Tailgating became literal as everyone packed under the rear gate of various model SUVs to take shelter from the storm. Accuweather said the rain would stop in 17 minutes, then 27 minutes, then 29 minutes. Weather.com called for 100% change of rain until 10pm. The wind, always an enemy to Red Rocks, decided to make up for ruined sets by ushering the storm away before the show started — proving once again that Mother Nature is the only accurate weather forecaster. The seats might have been wet as CeeLo Green was providing “adult entertainment”, and there was a chill in the air while he was warming us up for Lionel, but there were no complaints from the sold-out crowd. The air was still, dry and full of soul — and with everyone on their feet the entire time, there was no need to sit on wet seats anyway. There wasn’t another drop of rain for the entirety of the show — the wind, having done it’s job, made it’s way South, leaving us with the perfect acoustics that are so often talked about, but rarely experienced.
It’s at this point that I should probably warn the reader that I’m having an extremely hard time writing this review. Usually this is the easy part. Once I’ve set the narrative for the night, it’s just a matter of recapping the show — what songs were played, the stage banter, the audience participation, etc., etc. Things aren’t flowing for me tonight. I almost scrapped the review altogether, but I felt like it would be a disservice to myself if I didn’t get something down. As crazy as it might sound, I seriously believe this might ended up being one of the best Red Rocks shows of the season. So I’m going to try to power on here…
CeeLo Green did a great job of playing to the occasion. By mixing funk and soul classics by Percy Sledge and James Brown in with his own material, he really provided something for everyone. So by the time he closed his set with “Crazy” and “Fuck You”, even the chill in the air seemed a few degrees warmer. The 50 minutes between sets did nothing to tamper the mood on the ground, so by the time the LED screen lit up with a pair of stalkerish eyes and the “Hello” teaser, everyone was already on their feet and ready for the party. Lionel came out with a 5-piece band and performed the one new(ish) song of the evening before making us all aware that the performance was being filmed for a national 4th of July television event — prompting everyone to yell “Happy 4th of July” a month early.
From that point forward it was nothing but hits. “Penny Lover”, “Easy”, “Ballerina Girl”, “Truly”, “Running with the Night”…I could literally go on and on, but these words on the page would not do it justice. You really had to have been there. The man is 64 years old, yet doesn’t look a day over 50. His voice sounds the same as it did in the 80’s…maybe even better. His band were true to the soft rock/rnb sounds that made him famous, but none of the songs sounded anything like they do in an elevator (or dentist’s office). Where so many artists of his era come across as Vegas-cheesy, Lionel’s stage banter was actually funny. At one point he walked us through love found, lost, and then found again…each process prompting the protagonist to go home, put on the CD (or record, or 8-track, or cassette tape) and spend some time with Lionel Richie. The only joke that didn’t quite work is when he said Diana Ross was in attendance, only to disappoint by telling us that she couldn’t make it because she was at home BBQing for the 4th of July. It was a letdown, but when he asked the crowd to be Diana (he would be him), we all sang her parts of “Endless Love” without complaint.
The main set ended after almost 2 hours with the one-two punch of “Hello” and “All Night Long (All Night)”, but the band took the stage again almost immediately. Singing “We Are the World”, while images of Michael Jackson flashed across the screen, might have been a highlight of the night — a night that Lionel said was one of the best of his life. I’m sure he says that every night, but suspension of disbelief wasn’t hard to obtain. After all, we had just seen Lionel Richie perform an incredible set almost 30 years after his last big album.
“All the Hits All Night Long” — this tour name was a promise. And while it didn’t technically last all night long, the songs fought for attention in my head well past the time I should have been in bed. So I’m going to go ahead and call it a promise kept. Thank you Mr. Lionel Richie — thank you for the songs, thank you for the amazing night out, and thank you for my wife’s sexy new t-shirt.
Bright Lights Bigger City
We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy (Rod Stewart)
Don’t Cha (Pussycat Dolls)
Lovin’ You (Minnie Riperton)
Fool for You
I Feel Good (James Brown)
Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
All Around the World
Running with the Night
Stuck on You
Dancing on the Ceiling
Three Times a Lady
Lady (You Bring Me Up)
Say You, Say Me
All Night Long (All Night)
We Are the World