Of all the music I reconsidered in my old Philadelphia City Paper column, nothing brought more me joy than pushing past my childhood cynicism to fully appreciate Lionel Richie through an adult’s ears. Finally seeing him At the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City took that joy to another level.
I wasn’t at all surprised by his phenomenal showmanship and his tight band, but I was still moved more than I thought possible, both in heart (especially by the front-row proposal during “Endless Love”) and in booty (by “Brick House”—the very next song).
Richie promised all the hits, and indeed I sang along with almost word of the lyrics. His effortless piano playing on “Easy” was the perfect way to start the show, and an extended “Running With The Night” was an early favorite, but it only got better from there: “You Are The Sun,” “Dancing On The Ceiling” (with an interpolation of Van Halen’s “Jump”), “Three Times A Lady,” “Lady (You Bring Me Up),” “Hello,” “Say You, Say Me,” “We Are The World” and “All Night Long.”
In his preface to “We Are The World,” Richie paid tribute to all his peers who have passed away. It’s a fraught time to say nice things about Michael Jackson without acknowledging the monstrous parts of his private life, but that’s what Richie did, and I don’t fault him for that. I can’t extricate all my positive memories of Michael Jackson, and I’m not going to try. All I can do is accept that I’ll probably always struggle with the conflicting impulses to judge, reckon with and empathize with the complexity of his humanity—and everyone else’s, and my own. Maybe Richie didn’t plan for that moment in the show to be so heady, but he made it possible all the same.
Observing how he’d watch the crowd reaction and see someone cry hysterically during his happiest song and someone else laugh hysterically during his saddest song, he pointed out that we’re all filtering what we hear through our own memories. And experiencing them together.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich