Concert Review: Aretha Franklin at NJPAC 06/16/16

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I have a bit of a ritual- it basically consists of going to see Aretha Franklin every single time she performs in the area. I’ve been pretty religious at it for the last few years, and have seen her live 12 times now (11 if we’re only counting performances). She’s the epitome of music to me, and she’s getting up there, so every performance is something I treasure and appreciate, because how many more will there be? Last night however, was extra special for a number of reasons.

First of all, I wasn’t planning to attend this show. Aretha is performing at Radio City Music Hall in September and my dad and I (my concert partner in crime), already have tickets. The orchestra level seats at this show were all reserved for donors to the evening’s cause, multiple sclerosis, and I am a bit of a diva when it comes to where I sit at an Aretha show these days (30th row or better). However, with the events that unfolded in Orlando & Los Angeles over the weekend, my emotions have been, dare I say, unrelenting, and I needed some serious positivity. Thankfully, there was Aretha.

So there I sat in Newark, NJ’s NJPAC, in Tier 3 (closer to the ceiling than the floor), hoping for the best. And then she appeared on the stage, and gave it her all. The opening numbers were a dream for me: All songs I wanted to hear her sing and had yet to experience live. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”, “Share Your Love With Me”, “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)”, and “Jump To It”. I could have gone home happy after that quad.

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I’ve seen her cover Keyshia Cole’s “I Remember” quite a few times (even once with a Temptation), so I can do without that, but it fit well in the evening’s set. She closed out her first act with a rousing performance of “Chain of Fools” and departed the stage momentarily. The band played on while Aretha took a few minutes (this is standard procedure at her shows), and she returned ready to rock and roll.

Finally hearing her annihilate “Rolling In the Deep” live was equally as gratifying as the opening quad of tracks. She goes to town vocally and OWNS it, with her octave jumps and vocal runs. Cissy Houston would never have rolled her eyes at tonight’s reading. Then it was time for the obligatory gospel moment, and tonight’s choice was the stellar “Old Landmark”. It hails from her Amazing Grace LP, the greatest selling live gospel LP of all time, and she is sure to remind you of it, for good reason.

As other legends depart us, Aretha has made it a point to memorialize them in her show during the last few years, and tonight was no exception. She took to the piano (a serious treat in it’s own, because Aretha can play like nobody’s business), and played “Inseparable” as she remembered Natalie Cole & Muhammad Ali. But she wasn’t done yet, despite a false finish at the ivories. She stayed pianist for one more song and treated us to “A Brand New Me”, which appeared on 1972’s Young, Gifted, & Black.

The show concluded with an extended reading of “Freeway of Love”, followed by an encore with the signature “Respect” which of course was a turned into an audience sing-a-long. She closed out by returning to the stage one more time and dancing for an instrumental bit of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” She also noted that she had been fighting a cold and did not want to let the audience down, which could account for the abbreviated set list and lack of some of the vocally bigger numbers. Before calling it a night she also made sure to acknowledge the legendary Narada Michael Walden (“I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, “How Will I Know”, “Freeway of Love”, “Vision Of Love”, “I Don’t Wanna Cry”) who was the evening’s special-guest drummer.

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Post show I maneuvered my way to the stage door to await the Queen’s exit. It was only myself, my friend, and a fellow Aretha fan. When she exited, though she very politely declined my request for a photo, she talked to us for a bit. I talked to my idol. I’m still processing it. It was a magical moment and the culmination of 18 years of idolizing this legendary woman.

 

Set List

  1. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
  2. Share Your Love With Me
  3. Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)
  4. Jump To It
  5. I Remember (Keyshia Cole cover)
  6. Chain Of Fools
  7. Rolling In The Deep/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Adele/Diana Ross cover)
  8. Old Landmark
  9. Inseparable [Tribute to Natalie Cole & Muhammad Ali] (Natalie Cole cover)
  10. A Brand New Me
  11. Freeway of Love
  12. Respect

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