Monday, September 04, 2017

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: At Ravinia, Aretha Franklin Provides Glittering Glimpses of Her Majestic Past -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Aretha Franklin
and her orchestra
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
September 3, 2017

I have had the pleasure of seeing several of the greatest legends in pop music history perform live.

Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, the departed Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard and many others.

Aretha Franklin clearly deserves to be in that company--her name as singular and renowned as almost anybody's--but until Sunday night at Ravinia, I had never seen the Queen of Soul.

I wouldn't say that, at 75, she was as good as she's ever been; her wondrous voice, though still a pristine instrument, doesn't pack the same punch. Slowed by time, one sees glimpses of Aretha's glory, but the full-throated enthrall isn't quite there.

No matter.

Having noted, over the past several years, the diva's health challenges, weight struggles, canceled, aborted, abrupt or half-hearted shows, I was excited simply for the chance to see Franklin, whose Ravinia date had been postponed from June.

And what I got--with a bargain pavilion seat bought just the day before--was considerably better.

Though my interest was abetted by a stellar review of Franklin's prior concert in Philadelphia--which suggested this could be her last go-round--I didn't reasonably expect to witness 1968 Aretha in Highland Park.

Nor a concert likely on par with the likewise 75-year-old McCartney, who still performs for nearly 3 hours, and dazzled again recently.

Starting just minutes after the ticketed 7:30pm start time, the singer named the greatest of all-time by Rolling Stone shared the stage with over 20 other musicians and vocalists, occasionally letting others do the heavy lifting.

She took a break after singing just six songs, and the whole performance--including parts where the star was offstage--clocked in at about 100 minutes.

There were some songs I didn't know, and a few others where the Queen of Soul blended a bit too much into the background.

But for God's sake, I heard Aretha Franklin sing--and sang along heartily with--"Chain of Fools," "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," "Freeway of Love," the closing "Respect" and even "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

I heard her--backed by marvelous musicians all night--play piano quite delectably while belting out two songs. (A Ravinia setlist isn't posted but I think it may match this one.)

I heard Aretha speak quite forcefully about her fondness for Chicago, saw her introduce the Rev. Jesse Jackson--who was in the audience--and relished her paying gospel homage to both her doctor and Savior who saw her past a serious health scare around 2010.

I was repeatedly cajoled by her to get on my feet and, like her, shake my tailfeather. (I know, that's wasn't her Blues Brothers song.)

Somewhat metaphysically, I was also reminded about how on "Hey Nineteen," Steely Dan--one half of whom, Walter Becker, had passed Sunday morning--extolled "'Retha Franklin." 

And as she performed a cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" with snippets of Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," I had it royally reiterated that while there have been remarkable divas before and after her, there remains only one...


And she was in fine form, better than I had hoped and--if not all that close an approximation of her towering legacy--compelling and even captivating from start to finish.

So although the show won't rank high among the very best concerts I'll see in 2017, it will stand tall as one I'm really glad not to have missed.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, indeed.


Here's video I took of the last song (while trying to sing & dance a bit):

And one more photo:

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