Too bad he couldn’t have joined them Thursday.
In fact, during the Commodores show, I actually felt a little sorry for those in the crowd who hadn’t seen Richie perform at the Chumash in 2006. Because Richie and his band were tight, honed and thoroughly entertaining. The Commodores were just . . . messy.
Richie left the Commodores, which formed while attending college in Alabama, during the 80s. While Richie’s solo career soared in its first decade, his old band had one big hit — “Nightshift” — in 1985, then it vanished from the charts. Still, it had an impressive song catalog that has allowed the band to do a Resting on Laurels Tour ever since.
Which is fine. I’m happy to hear older acts play great songs live. But usually guys that have been around a while — say, the Stones — have been playing together so long, they could perform in their sleep.
I knew the Commodores weren’t going to be this kind of act from the first song — when I noticed they were using pre-recorded vocal tracks to help them. The second glaring problem was that, well — Lionel Richie wasn’t there.
They did have Orange, who was sort of a co-lead singer until Richie came in to his own and became the star of the band. But Richie’s replacement in the 80s, J.D. Nicholas, is simply not Richie. He’s not as dynamic or as charismatic, and — to be blunt — he doesn’t sing nearly as well.
There’s a reason Lionel Richie became a superstar.
Beyond that, the band relied way too much on audience participation — a pet peeve of mine — and they talked too much about uninteresting things. At one point, Orange asked audience members to turn around and shake the hands of the people behind them.
That was always the worst part of going to church; I certainly didn’t want to have to do it at a concert.
And also? When I’m at a concert, I don’t like being told what to do. So when they told us to wave our hands in the air or to sing along, I felt defiant when I refused to go along.
I’ll react to the music on my own terms, thanks.
If the music is good.
I could go on, but the short version is that it was pretty disappointing. Because the band did play many of the great Commodores tunes — including “Easy,” “Brick House,” “Sail On,” “Still” and “Machine Gun” — and there were a few promising moments: Orange’s vocals on “Brick House” and William King’s trumpet on “Easy,” for example.
Usually, when shows don’t go well, it’s because the artists were uninspired. But the guys in the band seemed to enjoy themselves. Heck, even people in the packed crowd seemed to enjoy the show, which was a little baffling. But maybe I’m biased because I’d seen Richie perform. Or because I still listen to the recordings.
After watching the Commodores, I’m convinced that Richie never will reunite with his old band. Because while his solo career stalled in the 90s, the Commodores need him a lot more than he needs them.
In fact, since his latest album, “Tuskegee,” was a top ten record, I’d say he doesn’t need them at all.
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