Lalah Hathaway’s Starry Starry Homecoming Night in L.A.

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Lalah Hathaway/Eric Roberson
Club Nokia
April 6, 2012

Concert Review by A. Scott Galloway

On a Full Moon Friday in L.A., Lalah Hathaway adorned the night with stars…

Taking the stage in a lovely flowing wrap dress with a plunging neckline dripping in luscious aqua marine, Lalah opened her set with two recent mid-tempo groove tunes that set the mood as casual, comfy and feel-good with “If You Want To” and “Breathe.”  This was followed by the ceremonial removal of her “two song shoes” and giving herself over to the more sensual groove of “Small of My Back,” communicating more clearly with subtly bewitching undulations in front of her microphone (like a real singer should) than any fill-in-the-blank pop tart putting themselves through 100 rep calisthenics at 180 BPMs.

A jazzy bass solo of soulful luxuriance led into another Hathaway tradition of exploring the Gershwin standard “Summertime.”  While longtime followers might quibble that they have seen her dig into this number more than enough times over the years, it provided a winning improvisational springboard  for background singers Jason Morales and Toni Scruggs who took a chorus apiece…and devoured them for dinner.

Thoroughly warmed up, Lalah took over her DJs laptop to share a taste of what Saturday morning around her house is like as she “spun” a few jubilant iPod jukebox oldies, two of which featured the voice of her father, Mr. Donny Hathaway: “Back Together Again” and (most amusingly) “This Christmas.”  “I know it’s not Christmas,” she quipped. “Sing anyway!”  And her peeps obliged, right on into her next set of romantic cover songs: Anita Baker’s “Angel,” Earth Wind & Fire’s “Love’s Holiday” and the song that her father basically snatched from its composer Leon Russell “A Song For You.”  This moment proved puzzling as Lalah repeatedly sang the refrain as “a song to you,” but with every drop of deep-pitted adoring reverence intact if to an ever-so-slightly rushed pulse.

Next was one of the bright spot pleasant surprises of her latest album Where it All Begins with “Wrong Way,” a soft rocker that would not be out of place on a Stevie Nicks album with its gently driving melodicism and soar-on-the-wind chorus.  Then she dropped down into debut album soul sister gem “Baby Don’t Cry” (an `Angela Winbush finger-popper) followed by her brand new single, a loving rendition of one of her father’s final recordings,  “You Were Meant For Me.”  The easy open effortlessness of her delivery on this song totally warms your heart.  This writer would only hopes that as Lalah and her band perform this more on the road, they find a deliciously befitting way to bring the song to a heart-stopping ending.  One way would be for it to seamlessly melt into the next number, the haunting “I’m Coming Back” another song from her self-titled debut album that Lalah so perfectly embodies that she rerecorded it on her latest CD with even richer depth, using the wide open space as a canvas for soul calling.

Also toward the end were the upbeat and reassuring “Lean On Me,” “We’re All in This Together” (fast becoming adopted as an anthem in memory of Trayvon Martin – available as a Best Buy bonus track if you purchase Where It All Begins from that location) and the Luther Vandross song that – in his earthly absence – Lalah has respectfully made her own, “Forever, For Always, For Love,” which she milked in a languorously seductive turn.

However, the final of several highlights this night came in two songs featuring special guests. First was opening act Eric Roberson joining Lalah for their duet “Dealing” which originates from his 2009 CD, Music Fan First.  D.C.-based Roberson – who delivered a tight set of his own highlighted by his hit ballad “Picture Perfect” and balanced by his witty lasciviousness and chivalrous sincerity – proved a symbiotic complement to Hathaway with a voice of masculine vulnerability and a playfully lusty demeanor you could tell was making her heart smile.  He came up out of HIS shoes as if to say, “Seriously, how can I be down…y’all turn those cell phone cameras off a minute – I got a wife at home!”

The room was not ready, however, for the encore which started as a cool stroll through Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” with her musical soul mate Rahsaan Patterson but soon turned into a free for all as, one by one, Lalah invited many of her friends that had been watching from the wings to come out and sing something over the chord changes.  Lalah & Rahsaan set the pace by juxtaposing lines from “Human Nature,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” “Off the Wall,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” “Girlfriend” and “Thriller” into the mix, sending the crowd over the moon with surprise after surprise.  Then Lalah shifted gears and gave it up to Whitney Houston by singing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody Who Loves Me” to which Rahsaan answered with “Thinkin’ About You.”  Sheila E, who had already slipped onstage playing congas in the back sauntered upstage with a beer bottle and proceeded to elicit Afro Cuban calls through it (a la Bill Summers on Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters’ “Watermelon Man” circa `73, then added a bit of her own signature smash “The Glamorous Life.”  Lalah invited Anita Baker to the stage to join them calling her one of her earliest “low singin’” mentors but Baker politely declined instead insisting that there was no way she could be in the same city as Lalah and not come out to support her.  That didn’t stop Kenny Lattimore, Sy Smith and B. Slade (formerly contemporary gospel maverick Tonex) from taking a crack at the mic – an unforgettable finale that all present will never forget.

L.A. has been home for the lady for a couple of decades now and she made quite the homecoming in an evening most accurately described as magical.

A. Scott Galloway
Music Editor
The Urban Music Scene

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