BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene (originally published Sept. 28, 2013)
So Lionel Richie threw a party Friday night at Chastain Park Amphitheatre and close to 7,000 of his adoring fans came to celebrate with him.
The 64-year-old R&B-soul-pop superstar – one of those increasingly rare artists who has hit the charts in every decade since the ‘70s – has no shortage of hits, so it’s appropriate that his U.S. fall run is dubbed “All the hits, all night long.”
Obviously, the title is play on his Caribbean-tinged 1983 radio smash “All Night Long (All Night),” which appeared immediately preceding the encore at Friday’s sold-out show.
But leading up to that hip-shake-along was about two hours of other familiar classics, both from his solo years and his time as a key figure in The Commodores.
Richie’s opening trio of songs included an extended version of “Easy” – complete with a momentary reggae detour and that signature squiggly electric guitar solo – and plenty of friendly conversation about the Alabama native’s contentment about being back in the South.
He even shared the same joke he talked aboutin a recent AJC interview, about how here, his name isn’t Lionel, but, rather, “Ly-nel.”
Richie is a smooth showman, and as he stalked the stage in his black leather pants and an assortment of white and black jackets, he always seemed engaged with the crowd and truly cheerful onstage.
His voice was in impressive form throughout the show, too, whether he was gliding through the sunshiny “You Are” with his youthful five-piece band, hitting almost all of the high notes – and doing some vocal vamping – during “Truly” and throwing a few trademark “ow”’s into “Running with the Night.”
“I haven’t seen dancing like that since ’84,” he joked after “Running.”
Richie is well aware of the emotional connection fans have with his songs, and, to their delight, he slid behind the piano to present a trio of ballads that expressed the steps of a relationship. The romantic lament “Still” and beautiful piano melody of “Oh No” were performed by Richie sans band, which returned for the capper, “Stuck on You.”
“The way the cups are looking, you’re ready to move on to phase two,” Richie, a first-timer to Chastain said, pointing toward the front row.
Though the second half of the show contained a jagged array of tempos – everybody stand up for the intensely fun “Dancing on the Ceiling,” cleverly mixed with a snippet of Van Halen’s “Jump,” oh, wait, now sit down for the lovely “Three Times a Lady”! Up again for the glossy soul-pop of “Lady,” but hang on, down again for “Just to be Close to You” – it’s hard to quibble with the extensive array of Richie’s hits recreated so perfectly.
His return to Commodores’ faves “Fancy Dancer” and “Sweet Love” reminded the crowd of the terrific level of musicianship that came with these ‘70s funk-pop songs and, even today, “Brick House,” mixed in with a little “Fire” from the Ohio Players and a steamy sax solo, gets under your skin.
The melancholy minor chord progression of “Hello” led into the eternal fiesta that is “All Night Long” before Richie wrapped the show on a thoughtful note with “We are the World.”
Sure, there were moments of pensiveness and a few sniffles conjured by some of Richie’s sensitive ballads, but for most of the night, good times never felt so good.