Patti LaBelle is big from hair to heels, and her voice is especially big


Everything about Patti LaBelle is Big.

She has Big Hair that cascades all over her face, and Big Fingernails that could screech a blackboard from a mile away. Even her heels, six inches off the Pier Six Music Pavilion floor, are Big.

And, LaBelle's voice?

What else? Huge. Cavernous. Resounding.

Large enough to be heard from the back of the pavilion last night.

Without a microphone.

That voice and all that surrounds it can be both blessing and curse, but most of last night's performance, the second of two this weekend, were more than enough to please the enthusiastic throng.

From the ballad "This I Know Is True," to a cover of Harold Melvin's "If You Don't Know Me," performed in bare feet, when the replacement four-inch heels gave out, LaBelle's vocal cords pounded out the sound and the fury in two glorious hours.

And for all the exuberance and power that LaBelle delivers with her own material, a delicious little medley of songs that she wished she had done first were the true measure of her rich talent.

LaBelle's cover of "Rush, Rush" pointed out just how limited Paula Abdul is as a singer, while her rendition of "All the Man I Need" drove home that Whitney Houston, while in LaBelle's league as a vocalist, still has a thing or two to learn about delivery.

About the only thing missing in LaBelle's set was subtlety. Who else could appear from a costume change in a pink top with a train and a black miniskirt to the strains of Stephen Sondheim's "Send In The Clowns."

Everything was delivered with the impact of a sledgehammer, and even the night's Big Surprise -- an impromptu appearance by James Ingram, in town two nights early for his Tuesday concert -- was sort of lost in the Hugeness of it all.

But Big can also be Friendly, and LaBelle was certainly that with her fans. Time and again, they flooded the stage front with cameras, gifts, requests or just a hand to shake, and while her celebrity was Big enough to take it all in, she was humble enough to touch them all.

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