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Concert Reviews:
Aretha Franklin earns her R-E-S-P-E-C-T at DTE

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- During a hard week for music in general, and Motown in particular, the Queen of Soul was just the ticket to make folks feel better. At least for a little while.

The deaths of Motown stalwarts Esther Edwards Gordy and Nicholas Ashford certainly should have made the 9,400 who showed up to see Aretha Franklin on Thursday Night (Aug. 25) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre more appreciative of seeing a bona fide home town legend in the flesh. And it's not like there wasn't already a layer of drama and intrigue attached to the show.

It was, after all, Franklin's first Detroit area since here undisclosed surgery and subsequent -- but false -- rumors of impending death late last year. Since then, of course, Franklin has established she's very much alive, and on Thursday she proved she was well, too, with a spirited concert that fused soulful energy and gospel fervor into a nearly two-hour performance that, even with a few flaws, merited nothing less than R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The 69-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident was clearly in good humor and ebullient form from the time she strode onto the DTE (or, as she preferred to call it, Pine Knob) stage to work her way through Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." Fronting a 23-piece "orchestra" that included a 10-piece horn section, three backup singers and two tambourine players, Franklin chose not to refer to this week's passings; instead she paid tribute to late friends and peers such as Curtis Mayfield ("Giving Him Something He Can Feel") and Luther Vandross ("Get It Right," a 1983 hit he co-wrote for Franklin). She also made reference to her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, and to her late sisters Erma and Carolyn, whose photos were shown on the DTE video screens..

The living were celebrated, too. Franklin told the story of receiving "Until You Come Back to Me" from Stevie Wonder before she performed it or introducing guests in the audience that included her son Eddie (another son, Teddy Richards, played guitar in the band), fellow singing great Anita Baker sitting next to Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence.

But it was the 14 songs and Franklin's robust vocal delivery -- particularly effective in her lower registers -- that were the true stars of the night. The opening numbers may have had a warm-up quality to them, but by the time she reached "Gotta Find Me an Angel" Franklin was dishing out showy, extended vocalics, and the gospel pairing of "I Came to Lift Him Up" and "Ain't No Way" was a showstopper. Changing outfits -- from a green-and-pink jacket/gown combination to a silvery mirror ball-style dress -- during an intermission that featured two contemporary R&B songs from her fledgling grandson Jordan, Franklin offered a confident rendition of "How Long I've Been Waiting" from her new album, "Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love."

And then the fun really started.

"Chain of Fools" turned DTE into a nostalgic dance party, while a lengthy, gospelized rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- the only time Franklin played piano during the show -- was rapturous. An unplanned performance of Juanita Bynum's "One Night With the King," which allowed Franklin to plug a concert she's presenting Oct. 28 at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, put things back on the spiritual tip, and a charged, show-closing "Respect," during which she introduced the band and asked Baker to come backstage after the show, kept the DTE crowd dancing and working on its spelling skills.

About the only time Franklin truly stumbled was, figuratively, on a flaccid "Freeway of Love," and literally, when the heels she was so proud of wearing -- her first pair in 10 weeks, she said -- got caught on her dress as she left the stage for an encore. We might have enjoyed hearing "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," too, but Franklin succeeded in letting everyone know that the Queen is alive, and there will almost certainly be a next time to hear those songs that weren't part of Thursday's show.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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