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Review: Richie gives SPAC the hits it wants

Saratoga Summer

Review: Richie gives SPAC the hits it wants

Early in Friday night’s show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Lionel Richie told the crowd he
Review: Richie gives SPAC the hits it wants
Lionel Richie took center stage at SPAC Friday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Early in Friday night’s show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Lionel Richie told the crowd he “would do all the hits all night long.”

This was true.

“This is the night of karaoke on steroids,” he added. This was also true, as the audience sang with Richie at least parts of every song.

He opened with a quick “All Around the World,” followed by a full “Penny Lover.” Then he surprised with the big Commodore’s hit “Easy (Like Sunday Morning),” a great song and the kind performers wait to use for the last portion of the show.

Instead, he broke the night open early, getting everyone out of their seats. And he had plenty hits to go. But the night could only sink down a bit after that, with songs like “Ballerina Girl,” then two from his debut solo album: “You Are” and “Truly”— with fireworks displayed on the video screen during this ballad. These are all great songs and staples on the radio for decades, but they weren’t enough to get the crowd back out of its seats.

Then he ordered everyone out of their seats for “Running with the Night,” one of his heaviest rock-like tunes.

“I haven’t seen dancing like that since 1984,” he said after the song. “I saw some ‘Soul Train’ in the corner.”

Richie seemed to look the same, sing the same and move the same as he always has. Sixty-five years old is nothing for rock or pop stars these days; these guys can go all night.

“When I was young, you were young,” he said. “When you got old, I stayed young.”

He described his audience in three groups: Commodores fans, fans of his 1980s solo work and a third group that called call him “Mr. Richie” and talk about their parents playing his music in their house while growing up.

He sang for his encore the mega-hit “We Are the World,” which he co-wrote with Michael Jackson to help raise awareness about hunger in Africa in the ’80s. He may be the only performer out there to sing this song in concert.

The biggest dance number was “Lady,” which ended a series of Commodores songs, though “Brick House” also brought everyone to their feet. Every song was pretty much familiar to the casual listener, but the best ones were “Three Times a Lady,” “Sail On,” “Say You Say Me,” and “All Night Long.”

While Richie came on a full hour after the opener, creating some disgruntled mumbling in the crowd, all was forgiven by time the show was finished. The show had considerable shtick and probably changes very little night after night. But people come to be served up the big hits, sing along to their favorites and call it a nice night. That much they got.

Music and television personality CeeLo Green opened the show with a 45-minute set that warmed the crowd with some good funk, pop and dance music, though no one danced — it was still too light and too early. He played a lot of familiar snippets, moving from song to song in 40-second jolts, like “We Are Family” to “If You Think I’m Sexy” to “Doncha,” without getting anything going. He did play a full version of “Crazy” under the guise of his other persona, Gnarls Barkley.

Overall, it was a good set — backed with female musicians — but too short, forcing him to rush through and preventing any kind of real momentum. Double the time he got Friday night, and it’s likely he’d get any place warmed up properly.

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