Was Aretha Franklin's concert at Harrison Opera House in Norfolk on Saturday a triumphant romp through R&B history or an expensive disappointment? That depends, I suppose, on your expectations.
Franklin, 70, brought a big band to Norfolk. There were as many as twenty musicians and singers on stage backing up the legendary Queen of Soul. The group gave her a massive, brassy foundation on which to perform hits including "A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)," "Think," "Call Me," "Chain of Fools," and "Respect," which was saved for a predictable encore.
The queen's voice doesn't possess the raw power it did in decades past. Her background singers did much of the high-register heavy lifting and at times that mighty band obscured rather than supported her vocals. Still, her soaring, unsurpassed tone broke through for brief moments. On songs such as Curtis Mayfield's "Hooked on Your Love," her wonderful mid- and low-ranges rang out clear and true. It's too bad she didn't choose to craft her set to emphasize those strengths.
Instead, we got pretty much a standard greatest-hits revue and one that lasted a total of 80 minutes -- including a brief break where Franklin left the stage while the band entertained without her.
Some of the best moments of the show came when Franklin improvised long codas to songs, letting her voice dip and leap in bluesy, gospel-flavored runs. Unfortunately, some of her most passionate singing came during the peppy-but-lightweight "Freeway of Love."
Franklin's demeanor on stage was warm and engaging. She's lost significant weight and seemed to be in good spirits as she referred to health problems now overcome. She even engaged in a brief bit of crowd-pleasing rump shaking.
So was the show worth the $75 to $113 price of admission? I heard no grumbling as the audience filtered out of the opera house. Those thrilled by the notion of sharing some time with a giant of American music got what they wanted. Anyone thirsty for a concentrated dose of soul inspiration got more of a sip than a long, satisfying drink.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun