One word of five letters and two syllables was enough to rile up the more than 7,000 audience members in the Hard Rock Live Arena on Saturday night.
A melodic “Hello” ringing through the speakers was all that was needed to cause screams, cheers, whistles and applauding even before the headliner – Lionel Richie – appeared on stage.
Once he did, neither Richie nor the audience slowed down for the next two hours.
This was Richie’s second performance of a two-night gig at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. Once on stage he immediately promised the excited crowd a show of “all the greatest hits,” and he did not disappoint.
After the musical greeting, Richie sat down at the grand piano and kicked off the concert with “Easy,” which was an instrumental crossover hit for The Commodores back in 1977, and helped launch Richie into his many solo successes.
Whether you were a fan of The Commodores or Richie’s solo work, as promised the songs were the most recognizable of his long and highly successful music career. And he performed full versions of each, rather than cramming three or four hits into a small montage like, say, Janet Jackson or Britney Spears.
Richie, 69, was in high-energy mode throughout the 120-minute show and encouraged the audience to keep up, inviting them to sing and dance and, at one point, even jump, at which time Richie’s band broke into a riff of the famous Van Halen tune.
The audience needed little encouragement. Most had already been dancing in their seats or in the aisles since the opening number, and by the time song No. 7 came around, if they could dance on the ceiling, they probably would have done so.
The vibe in the arena was that of pure joy and happiness. Men and women were swaying and singing every lyric to every song. Richie, who knew he had them eating out of the palm of his hands, said, “you know when the men – the brothers – are singing that you have a good show.”
Richie, known for his many irrefutable love songs, proved himself to be quite the comedian too. He told a story about a 275/280-pound man who came up to him backstage, put his hands on Richie’s shoulders and said, “I’ve made love to you hundreds of times.” Richie took a beat and with dead-on comedic timing yelled, “Lies!!”
One of the biggest highlights of Saturday’s show happened not on stage, but in the audience. During “Three Times a Lady,” which Richie introduced as a song that many people got engaged or married to, couples were shown slow dancing on the big screen. Before you knew it, a gentleman in the audience was down on one knee, the camera catching every moment, and popped the question. When “yes” was the response, the entire crowd at Hard Rock Live roared, cheered and applauded for the happy couple. While the blushing bride-to-be flashed her ring for the camera, Richie said, “we aim to please at the Lionel Richie show.”
Looking out at the now-betrothed couple, Richie joked that the woman reminded him of something. "I know," he said, “She’s a -- (can you guess where this is going?) -- Brick House.” This lead into a great R&B, funk-fueled, disco-tech medley of Commodores’ hits that also included “Sail On” and “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” among others.
Trickster that he is, Richie seriously fooled about a third of the crowd with a tease that Diana Ross was coming on stage to join him in the duet they made famous together, “Endless Love.” The disappointed crowd quickly recovered when Richie invited all the women to sing Ross’ part, feeding them lyrics as the song progressed.
The crowd craved more and more of Richie’s universally adored music, and gave Richie as much love as he gave to them. He joked that if this response keeps up, he just might have to play “all night long” – essentially leaving folks to ponder if he meant his hit song or literally continue to play until the wee hours of the morning.
At one point Richie discussed memories with to the audience. Though, he said, his memories while writing his hits may have differed from those of when people first heard the songs -- birthdays, weddings, graduations, holidays, family get-togethers -- it was these memories that had everyone feeling good last night and ultimately what brought everyone together at Hard Rock.
Richie took a serious moment to recognize all of his “competitors” – i.e., his contemporaries – who were no longer with us. He acknowledged musicians such as Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Glenn Frey and George Michael, taking time between each name to let the audience react. Richie got particularly sentimental when he brought up Prince's name, almost as if he still didn’t quite believe he was gone.
At this point, there was a palpable tenseness in the stands, as people surely wondered if Richie would recognize Michael Jackson -- this just weeks after the release of the highly controversial “Finding Neverland” documentary -- and, if so, what kind of reaction it would receive. Would he get booed? Would it spoil the happy vibe?
Richie did mention his “dear friend” with whom he co-wrote “We Are the World.” However, he didn’t give it any time to breathe, using instead as a segue to head immediately into the song, which is still as powerful today as it was when recorded by U.S.A. for Africa in 1985.
After, headliner Richie bid the crowd good night, but it was yet another one of his jokes, because no self-described Richie show of “all the greatest hits” would be so without “All Night Long.”
Following this number there was a quick “good night and God bless” and Richie left the stage, while the audience continued singing and dancing as they exited the arena.