December 20, 2008



It was a frosty winter night, but Labelle was performing together with a new album out for the first time in 30 years. I blogged it and then waited until it had sold out to buy my ticket. Bummed! Then Lahoma Van Zandt came to the rescue with two comps--a Christmas miracle! So we trekked up to 125th Street to the legendary venue to see the rock/funk/outer space trio who rocked the 70's. Many gay sisters were spotted, including Tabboo! in a beplumed hat, Noel Alicia, Bernard Blythe, Stephen Spriggs, Hilton Als, Dino Deguiciss (sp?), Keith Price, Michael Paoletta and Bobby Shaw. And before my camera died, I caught lesbian royalty Kate Clinton arriving. I'm not a big fan of stand-up, but you can't help but love her warm humor. Nona Hendrix is an out lesbian so Kate was probably connected in some way from back in the day. Loads of press there as well, including two different Italian reporters.

After listening to everything from rare grooves like Gwen McCrae's KEEP THE FIRE BURNING to Alicia Keys to REHAB, the concert started with a bang. Whoopi Goldberg made a surprise intro and whipped the crowd into a frenzy saying things like "Do you know how many other girl groups have come along and TRIED to do what they did?"

Then with no fanfare, lighting cues or any other technical wizardry--much less entering on a space ship in Larry LeGaspi--the group walked out on stage to no music. Patti started crying and so naturally I did too. She was soaking in the applause and clearly savoring the long-awaited moment with her sisters. Nona looks the same (like Iman's cousin) and had on the most glammed up outfit of the three with a jeweled headdress, Sarah was working an impressively high shoe and had dropped a lot of weight since I saw her at Nona's solo show last year. I was disappointed that Patti hadn't wigged out her look until she turned around and you could see huge feather sticking straight out of her butt area, and her tail-feather action got a laugh when she shook it.

They opened with MISS OTIS REGRETS from their latest album. Patti can do almost no wrong in my book and she rarely disappoints. She's one of the most passionate and theatrical singers I've ever seen. But what I was forced to realize is that even though I love Patti's voice, I prefer her solo material to Labelle's, which was always on the rock tip. Patti's solo stuff is pure soul. Labelle had some fantastic songs with gorgeous vocal arrangements like ISN'T IT A SHAME, WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU, MESSIN' WITH MY MIND and their only major hit, LADY MARMALADE. Labelle also featured some stellar production--so I was a definitely shocked to hear synthesized horns spoiling the arrangements.

There were sound problems from the beginning. I couldn't hear the band during the first part of MESSIN' and when Sarah Dash took center stage to speak, her mic was barely on. She mentioned something about Obama being a blessing. (Patti, with a much louder mic, interrupted her.) Nona took the stage to intro one of her compositions by saying that at a time when everyone is trying to define a relationship as between a man and a woman, this song was about a love between soulmates. (Wink! Wink!)

After about 40 minutes, the amps blew. For an entire song Patti and the girls (all in their mid-60's) sang a song which the audience could only hear through the monitors. Then Patti sensed there was trouble and asked for a new mic repeatedly. Since their monitors were on, the gals could hear just fine. So after several more minutes, Patti tried talking to the audience on dead mic. Why the fuck didn't some manager or engineer run up and explain the situation? I realize that unions are necessary, but my experience working with union sound engineers is that they are cocky assholes who can't be fired and they often don't give a shit because their dream gig would be roadie for a rock band. So they are already pre-disposed to disliking a drag queen with a cd and refuse to follow even simple instruction like turn up the track.

But Labelle isn't a drag queen with a cd backing track. They're a legendary band having a long overdue resurrection. For no engineer to get off of their seats and run down the aisle to them to explain that it wasn't the mic as Patti floundered on stage was tragic. Where was her manager? Make-up artisit? Friend? Anybody knows more about tech stuff than I do so, if I can spot the problem, it should be obvious. A little defeated, the group decided to take an intermission.

After several minutes, an Apollo spokesperson came out and said that drinks were on the house, which indicated that it would be a while. Apparently, the amps blew. I split during the intermission. Here's what someone who stayed wrote:

Dear Lady Bunny:

Big trouble at the LaBelle concert. Basically, it was cancelled after 4-5 songs and a brief a capella stint following an announcement that there was a "power outage."

Everything started well. Whoopie Goldberg introduced the group. I'm not a fan, so I can't identify what they sang. But I liked what I heard, and the crowd was totally loving it. Soon, Patti LaBelle seemed to be running out of steam. She stood with her back to the audience, hunched over the piano. She "jokingly" asked her buddies, using sing-song, to help her out. Sarah Dash jumped to the rescue by thanking us all for being there, etc. etc.

The concert resumed. Then LaBelle's voice could not be heard. At first, we could hear everyone else. Patti tapped her microphone, in a motion commonly used to test whether it is working. Nona Hendryx offered her microphone to Patti, who first refused it, then later accepted it. Slowly, the other singers (Sarah and Nona) started indicating that their microphones weren't working either.

Nobody rushed out to offer anybody a working microphone. Eventually, the singers seemed to agree that the microphones weren't working, and eventually an "intermission" was announced at about 9:15pm (the 8pm concert had begun at 8:30pm). By about 10:15pm, it was announced that there had been a "power failure." Someone in the audience asked why the lights were still on. No answer.

Eventually, Patti, Sarah and Nona returned to sing a capella with a large chorus (where did they come from?). They sang two songs, very nice. They were very apologetic. We filed out with the promise that our tickets would be honored Saturday night at 8pm. Can't make it? Please talk to the box office. We filed out, hopped on the "A" train, and were gone. Happily, the Donut Shoppe in Park Slope is open 24 hours, so the evening ended perfectly after all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bunny, the Times should have published this. It's terrific, and makes me wish even more that I could've been there. Thanks for writing this so quickly.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was awesome. We were treated to the ladies Accapella. I thought it was a testament to there professionalism and talent.They handled themselves under pressure with grace. I thought the Apollo crowd was awesome, understanding and supportive...I'm sorry for those who can't make it tonight...I'll be there.

11:21 AM  
Blogger pork said...

the first 6 songs were mind blowing.
unfortunately, song 7, Candlelight, brought on the doom.
the acappella songs were 'can i speak to you before you go to hollywood' and 'what can i do for you' and they were mesmerizing. not totally acappella, it was more body and soul with pianos and light percussion.

i can't wait to get my ass back in that seat tonight.
i hope all is fixed and the apollo truly is now ready for the return of Labelle.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was indeed a night to remember in more ways than one! Patti, Nona and Sarah are the epitome of Pure Class, Style and Gift of Voice. I, am a member of the ''The Branch Company'', the Gospel Group who sang behind these Awesome Women. Despite the ''technical difficulties'' on Friday night, they handled themselves with grace in abundance and were very concerned about their audience and didn't hesitate a moment in deciciding to come back on Saturday to give us the desires of hearts! It was an honor and absolute pleasure to work with these Awesome women! I, pray that God continues to bless them, so they may continue to bless us!

9:31 AM  

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