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Concert review: Lionel Richie presents polished hits in Atlanta

Lionel Richie
Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC

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If you’ve never seen Lionel Richie in concert, make it a priority of your summer to catch him somewhere on tour.

He’s as reliable a performer as you’ll find – and at 65, one of the most exuberant – as well as a consummate showman, natural (and self-deprecating) storyteller and a guy with more than a few hits to unveil during a two-hour set.

Last fall, Richie sold out Chastain Park Amphitheatre with an early version of his “All the hits, all night long” show. Almost a year later, it was déjà vu.

Sell-out crowd. Ton of hits presented with impressive tautness. Jokes about the pronunciation of his name in the South (“Lye-nel”) and a fake-out that Diana Ross was present to duet with him on “Endless Love.”

Even the odd pacing – stand up and dance for “You Are,” sit down for “Truly,” up again for “Running with the Night” – hasn’t been tweaked.

But despite the lack of freshness, the show is, as Richie stated early on, “karaoke night at its finest.” And that’s nothing to complain about.

Richie and his adroit five-piece band (including Chuckii Booker, a presence on the R&B charts in the late-‘80s/early-‘90s on keyboards) briskly trotted through the pleasant clip-clop of “Penny Lover” and the insta-sing-along “Easy,” which included a detour into “My Love” before wrapping with a reggae lilt.

Even though Richie played a late-night show to close the Essence Festival in New Orleans on Sunday, he showed no signs of fatigue Monday night. He enthusiastically traversed the stage for the sonic sunflower, “You Are” and immersed the crowd in a tidal wave of ‘80s nostalgia with “Dancing on the Ceiling” (a blast of synthesizers, a sax solo performed upside down and a snippet of Van Halen’s “Jump” all made appearances – what else could you ask for?).

Considering that Richie’s plump catalog contains a sizeable stash of wedding songs…and breakup songs…and makeup songs…his concert is obviously going to lean heavily on ballads.

The black-clad Richie relished sharing the drama of a trio of songs: The Commodores’ “Still” (“I like to start with disaster!”) and “Oh No” (“It gets worse!”) and his solo hit, “Stuck on You” (“Now times have changed”), all performed with great empathy from behind his piano.

Whether zipping through the elegantly silken R&B of “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” or turning up the funk sizzle on “Brick House,” Richie demonstrated that he’s still an old-school singer who emotes, not recites, his songs, which helps fans remember why they loved them in the first place.    

Even the epically cheesy “Hello,” a song that is much mocked, but never duplicated, takes on an appreciated resonance under Richie’s live presentation. 

Of course, most in the crowd just wanted to dance, whether it was to sway along with “Just to be Close to You” or “party Karamu, fiesta, forever” during an expectedly festive “All Night Long.”

Richie gave them plenty of opportunities.

For opener Cee Lo Green, it was homecoming, a chance for the Atlanta native to showcase his solo work and zig-zag through several snippets of cover songs.

During his 40-minute set, Green, wearing one of his trademark tunic/dress thingies, showcased his soulful bray of a voice, but the rapid-fire presentation of portions of songs – a few lines of Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much,” a bite of Cameo’s “Candy,” one verse of Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” a swatch of Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and a couple of verses of Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” – felt exhausting.

He opened with the glistening “Bright Lights Bigger City” (heard frequently in Atlanta’s airport) and ended with the double shot of his two best-known songs, the quirky squiggle known as “Crazy” (from his Gnarls Barkley days) and the gleefully sardonic “F*** You.”

But with so much filler in the middle – "Don't Cha,” the hit he wrote for the Pussycat Dolls aside – it proves that for all of his ubiquity, Green doesn’t have a huge output of hits.

Good for him for establishing himself as a household name regardless, but you almost wish that he would have thrown in a Goodie Mobtrack or two to remind audiences of his history.

Green has also successfully positioned himself as a Casanova, one capable of wrangling a band of female musicians in garter belts and Robert Palmer-video uniformity (even though the two male musicians on keyboards and horns did most of the heavy lifting). They might have provided eye candy, but with Green’s talent, does he really need gimmicks?

He’s conquered TV, tackled a Vegas show and even has a small role in the new music-themed movie, “Begin Again.” Let’s hope that despite the myriad entertainment opportunities, Green remembers to return the focus to his own music.

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