REVIEW: Lionel Richie, CeeLo Green make grown men (and critics) weep
TAMPA — It's best if we just get this out there right away, while the emotions are fresh, the reverberations of show-closing We Are the World ("We are the chillllldrennn …") are still echoing and the harsh light of morning doesn't have us questioning our life choices.
I sang a lot at Lionel Richie's Monday show at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre.
And when I say a lot: NO, A LOT, DUDE. Like caterwauling, I-don't-care-who-hears-me belting. Eyes closed, one hand to heaven, with full-tilt way-off-key going-for-it-osity: "You laughed at me! You said you never needed me!" I feel your pain, Lionel!
In fact, at one point, somewhere amidst the double-shot goodness of the forever-sunny You Are (an explosion of flowers on the video screens) and the crescendoing Truly (an explosion of explosions on the video screens), I basically turned to the strange man next to me and crooned right in his big, sweaty face: "TRULY IN LOVE WITH YOU GIRL!!!" I couldn't help myself. To his credit, the guy didn't flinch. He crooned right back. And on and on, for almost two hours in front of 8,500 adoring people, all ages, all walks of life.
Here's my theory on why Lionel Richie, 65 and still looking and sounding 35, does this to grown men: Because the pop icon is totally content (and rich) being Lionel Richie, with being a singer-songwriter with a truly (truuuuuulllleeee) genius ear for a sly hook and schmaltzy sentiment, with being a man fully secure in telling a woman she owns his silly heart outright. He doesn't want to be deep; he wants to make you write totally wrong-headed 2 a.m. love letters. Lionel Richie doesn't want to be anyone else but Lionel Richie — sappy one second, Dancing on the Ceiling the next — and self-contentment is our ultimate life goal, right? Barry "Mandy" Manilow still gets cranky at jokes at his expense; Lionel Richie sells T-shirts that openly celebrate his cheesetastic Richie-ness. (To see the tees, check out my Instagram page @seandalypoplife.)
Opening act CeeLo Green, an initially odd pairing that ultimately made passing-of-the-torch sense, also possesses that enviable blend of self-effacement and self-worship. Dressed all in red, including pants that M.C. Hammer would deem too baggy, the R&Ber resembled an all-purpose kickball. But man, he can flat-out sing, a soul-kissed, sinner-in-church holler that longed to tackle everything, from his own "F--- You" (he let the crowd handle the chorus, choosing either profane or the clean-version "forget") to covers of Rod Stewart, Minnie Riperton and Sister Sledge. "Show me the love! I'm singing my a-- off for you," CeeLo pleaded at one point, mingling amidst his begartered strippers/backing band. He's a charming butterball, but he's also restless, and you wonder just how good CeeLo could be if he really hunkered down.
Richie, however, knows his strengths. He's a bit of a ham, a Vegas showman — a bit of a nerd, too, with clunky dance moves and cornball chatter: "When you were in love, I was in love. When you fell out of love, I fell out of love. When you were young, I was young. And when you got old, … I stayed young!" For a few songs, he sat at the piano and sorta-explained the reason behind the writing. "Disaster! The relationship is over. … And you call on me, Lionel Richie." And with that, he played devastating breakup special Still, switching from punny to pathos with ease, his voice still midrange rich and going after every song (Hello, All Night Long) with fluttery nuance.
I can't remember the last time I had so much unabashed fun at a show. Oh, it wasn't perfect. The guy has so many hits, with the Commodores and solo, more than a few gems were truncated. Endless Love was made into a crowd sing-along (the ladies took the Diana Ross part), and he cut that off pretty quick. (I pouted.) Sax solos and pseudo-metallic guitar theatrics were straight out of the '80s (where they should have stayed). And I still don't get Say You Say Me. Is it a love song? A call for peace? And what's with that incongruous Dance Fever coda?
But hey, I'm telling you, when he did a gorgeously stripped version of Three Times a Lady ("And now that we've come to the end of our rainbow" gets me EVERY time), the only thing you could do was turn to the stranger next to you and sing in his face as loud as possible. What's the point in fighting the power of Lionel Richie? You just give in, man. You just give in.