Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2019-10-16
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor

  IDENTITY

Review: LaBelle at the Chicago Theater
by Vern Hester
2009-02-01

facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


It's odd that "Lady Marmalade," the slightly risque smash hit single from 1975, is now considered an infectious novelty.

An evening in the life of a Creole hooker and her john, it boldly crossed over from Black radio and [ gay ] discos, dragging its album [ Nightbirds ] to gold status and the group behind it into instant celebrity. LaBelle [ Nona Hendryx, Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash ] had been at it since 1961 as a "girl group" to little success [ even losing a fourth member—one Cindy Birdsong—to some other girl group ] . "Marmalade," penned by the high lord of New Orleans soul, Allen Toussaint, not only heralded their musical arrival but something altogether unexpected. Instead of chiffon, bouffants and gowns, the '75 LaBelle came wrapped in spandex, peacock plumes, silver, ornate headpieces, glitter, silver, sky-high platform boots and Dash's silver breastplate ( with nipples—oooh, shocking ) . That the three of them had epic voices and blunt attitudes made them, well, different. After all, '75 was the era of John Denver, the Captain and Tennille and Olivia Newton-John. Surely something had to be done.

But Nightbirds and "Lady" were really touchstones, although cultural historians would have you believe otherwise. The album revealed Hendryx as an astute composer and her contributions addressed where we ( Black women and, though it was never addressed, gays ) really were in '75. "Are You Lonely?," "What Can You Do For Me?" and "All Girl Band" addressed the withered dreams of the '60s from the furious standpoint of Black femininity ( which was way easy for gay boys to get, with all that glam ) . However, alhough glam was the rage, LaBelle jumped off the radio and page becase they had an attitude, sound, and content to go with all the flash. Then, they were about now; forging new identities, changing rules, starting new alliances, redefining roles. It was a whole new messege.

When LaBelle played the Chicago Civic Opera House on the "Nightbirds Tour," it was obvious who was getting that message: Blacks, of course, but also gay men and women of every shape, color, size and flavor. The old suffering queer ways had obviously died with Judy Garland, but LaBelle's tour was a celebration.

LaBelle, of course, was too idyosyncratic to pigeonhole although they hit the usual TV shows, including Cher's series. ( While glammed in silver, feathers and rocket boots, the host still couldn't hold a candle to the group on a duet of "What Can You Do For Me?" ) . The 1976 album Phoenix ( too eccentric ) and '77's Chameleon ( too internal/thoughtful/personal ) came far short of Nightbirds' sales, and they quietly broke up.

Hendryx recorded a rock album and performed with Talking Heads during its Eno period; Dash had a disco smash with "Sinner Man," and sang with Keith Richard's Expensive Winos; and Patti kept on being Patti.

Now, 32 years later, we have a new album, Back to Now ( Verve ) and a reunion tour. It's not fair, of course, to expect LaBelle to mean as much as they did when they did, although the new album tries. Thanks to Lenny Kravitz, Back to Now has some current touches but they hardly compensate for, dare I say it, an old-school gravity.

Thankfully, the Jan. 10 show at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, had more punch and almost put the new album into context—almost. Side-stepping the theatrical blast of vintage LaBelle, this show had segments of spine-tingling brilliance ( the searing opener, Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" and a velvety smooth "Superlover," for starters ) , then got mired in infuriating pacing. "Messin'" with My Mind" was loud, rushed and toothless, and forgotten gems "Get You Somebody New" and "Come Into My Life" were abruptly snipped mid-song before they had a chance to catch fire. The new single "Rollout" sounded oddly generic ( for them ) but "Lady Marmalade" nearly stopped the show—for the wrong reason. Plopped at the halfway mark, it came too early; but once that groove hit, the audience went apeshit. It was a sight to see the three of them in full unified harmonic fury and the way that the audience reacted. Then ... Patti invited men from the audience to sing with them on stage, and midway it went to pieces. What worked in Patti's solo show last year nearly killed this one; 13 guys at my count, with varying degrees of talent, trampled the biggest groove of the night. This "Marmalade" sucked all the energy and drama right out of the room and plodded on endlessly, dragging the show down into a rut.

Still, "You Turn Me On" ( which taught this former gay teenager about the power of female orgasim—"Natural Woman" my ass ) ," "Nightbirds," and "Isn't It A Shame" got the attentive readings they desereved. Hendryx and Dash finally got to open up on "Can I Talk to You Before You Go to Hollywood?" while the show closed with a thunderous "What Can You Do for Me?"

So was this even a reminder of what LaBelle or their era were really about? Not quite, though any occassion to hear Patti is a big deal, and the rarity of seeing Hendryx and Dash elevated this show to an event. What it did, of course, was make me wish for the re-release of LaBelle's long-unavailable work from that period. With so many of the gay men who attended the Civic Opera gig back in '75 ( and fans, in general ) no longer around, it's a shame our gay community doesn't know what it missed.


facebook twitter google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

A Man of No Importance at Pride Films and Plays through Nov. 10 2019-10-22 - Pride Films and Plays will stage the first Chicago production in more than a decade of A Man of No Importance, the heartwarming ...


Gay News

Critics Picks 2019-10-22 - The Color Purple, Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace, through Nov. 3—Director Lili-Anne Brown allows this speedy musical adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning ...


Gay News

Remy Bumppo, Court lead Jeff Awards, Teatro Vista honored 2019-10-22 - CHICAGO, IL - The 51st Annual Jeff Awards Ceremony took place on October 21, 2019, during a spirited evening at Drury Lane Oakbrook. ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Sunset Boulevard 2019-10-20 - Authors: Andrew Lloyd Webber ( music ); Don Black & Christopher Hampton ( book/lyrics ) At: Porchlight Music Theatre @ Ruth Page Center, ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Effect 2019-10-20 - Playwright: Lucy Prebble At: Strawdog Theatre Company, 1802 Berenice Ave. Tickets: Strawdog.org; $35. Runs through: Nov. 23 It doesn't take a ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Exquisita Agonia 2019-10-20 - Playwright: Nilo Cruz At: Aguijon Theatre, 2707 N. Laramie Ave. Tickets: Aguilontheatre.org . Price: $15-30. Runs through: Nov. 24 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross defined ...


Gay News

Ravinia president/CEO leaving post in 2020 2019-10-19 - Ravinia President and CEO Well Kauffman announced Oct. 19 that he will depart the festival upon completing his 20th anniversary year at its ...


Gay News

Story Jam features local celebs in a show to raise money for immigrant youth 2019-10-18 - Chicago, IL November 17th, 2019—Story Jam, a show that is part live-lit and part music concert combining storytellers and songwriters with a rocking ...


Gay News

Cirque du Soleil names cast for holiday production at Chicago Theatre 2019-10-17 - Chicago, IL ( October 16, 2019 ) — Cirque du Soleil and The Madison Square Garden Company ( NYSE: MSG ) announced today ...


Gay News

Firebrand Theatre to present Always… Patsy Cline 2019-10-17 - By Ted Swindley Directed by Brigitte Ditmars. Musical Direction by Andra Velis Simon. November 16 — December 15, 2019 at The Den Theatre ...


 



Copyright © 2019 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.