Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2015-07-22
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


  WINDY CITY TIMES

LaBelle at the Chicago Theater
by Vern Hester
2009-01-28

facebook twitter del.icio.us stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email


It's odd that "Lady Marmalade," the slightly risque smash hit single from 1975, is now considered an infectious novelty. An evening in the life of a Creole hooker and her john, it boldly crossed over from Black radio and [ gay ] discos, dragging its album [ Nightbirds ] to gold status and the group behind it into instant celebrity. LaBelle [ Nona Hendryx, Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash ] had been at it since 1961 as a "girl group" to little success [ even losing a fourth member—one Cindy Birdsong—to some other girl group ] . "Marmalade," penned by the high lord of New Orleans soul, Allen Toussaint, not only heralded their musical arrival but something altogether unexpected. Instead of chiffon, bouffants and gowns, the '75 LaBelle came wrapped in spandex, peacock plumes, silver, ornate headpieces, glitter, silver, sky-high platform boots and Dash's silver breastplate ( with nipples—oooh, shocking ) . That the three of them had epic voices and blunt attitudes made them, well, different. After all, '75 was the era of John Denver, the Captain and Tennille and Olivia Newton-John. Surely something had to be done.

But Nightbirds and "Lady" were really touchstones, although cultural historians would have you believe otherwise. The album revealed Hendryx as an astute composer and her contributions addressed where we ( Black women and, though it was never addressed, gays ) really were in '75. "Are You Lonely?," "What Can You Do For Me?" and "All Girl Band" addressed the withered dreams of the '60s from the furious standpoint of Black femininity ( which was way easy for gay boys to get, with all that glam ) . However, alhough glam was the rage, LaBelle jumped off the radio and page becase they had an attitude, sound, and content to go with all the flash. Then, they were about now; forging new identities, changing rules, starting new alliances, redefining roles. It was a whole new messege.

When LaBelle played the Chicago Civic Opera House on the "Nightbirds Tour," it was obvious who was getting that message: Blacks, of course, but also gay men and women of every shape, color, size and flavor. The old suffering queer ways had obviously died with Judy Garland, but LaBelle's tour was a celebration.

LaBelle, of course, was too idyosyncratic to pigeonhole although they hit the usual TV shows, including Cher's series. ( While glammed in silver, feathers and rocket boots, the host still couldn't hold a candle to the group on a duet of "What Can You Do For Me?" ) . The 1976 album Phoenix ( too eccentric ) and '77's Chameleon ( too internal/thoughtful/personal ) came far short of Nightbirds' sales, and they quietly broke up.

Hendryx recorded a rock album and performed with Talking Heads during its Eno period; Dash had a disco smash with "Sinner Man," and sang with Keith Richard's Expensive Winos; and Patti kept on being Patti.

Now, 32 years later, we have a new album, Back to Now ( Verve ) and a reunion tour. It's not fair, of course, to expect LaBelle to mean as much as they did when they did, although the new album tries. Thanks to Lenny Kravitz, Back to Now has some current touches but they hardly compensate for, dare I say it, an old-school gravity.

Thankfully, the Jan. 10 show at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, had more punch and almost put the new album into context—almost. Side-stepping the theatrical blast of vintage LaBelle, this show had segments of spine-tingling brilliance ( the searing opener, Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" and a velvety smooth "Superlover," for starters ) , then got mired in infuriating pacing. "Messin'" with My Mind" was loud, rushed and toothless, and forgotten gems "Get You Somebody New" and "Come Into My Life" were abruptly snipped mid-song before they had a chance to catch fire. The new single "Rollout" sounded oddly generic ( for them ) but "Lady Marmalade" nearly stopped the show—for the wrong reason. Plopped at the halfway mark, it came too early; but once that groove hit, the audience went apeshit. It was a sight to see the three of them in full unified harmonic fury and the way that the audience reacted. Then ... Patti invited men from the audience to sing with them on stage, and midway it went to pieces. What worked in Patti's solo show last year nearly killed this one; 13 guys at my count, with varying degrees of talent, trampled the biggest groove of the night. This "Marmalade" sucked all the energy and drama right out of the room and plodded on endlessly, dragging the show down into a rut.

Still, "You Turn Me On" ( which taught this former gay teenager about the power of female orgasim—"Natural Woman" my ass ) ," "Nightbirds," and "Isn't It A Shame" got the attentive readings they desereved. Hendryx and Dash finally got to open up on "Can I Talk to You Before You Go to Hollywood?" while the show closed with a thunderous "What Can You Do for Me?"

So was this even a reminder of what LaBelle or their era were really about? Not quite, though any occassion to hear Patti is a big deal, and the rarity of seeing Hendryx and Dash elevated this show to an event. What it did, of course, was make me wish for the re-release of LaBelle's long-unavailable work from that period. With so many of the gay men who attended the Civic Opera gig back in '75 ( and fans, in general ) no longer around, it's a shame our gay community doesn't know what it missed.


facebook twitter del.icio.us stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email




Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

These Boots Are Made for Working 2015-07-23
Chaz Bono on stage in "Down the Road" in LA 2015-07-23
Upcoming: Theater 2015-07-22
SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT About Face takes 'Breaths,' marks anniversary 2015-07-22
THEATER REVIEW Men of Soul 2015-07-22
THEATER REVIEW Whatever 2015-07-22
THEATER REVIEW Take Me Back 2015-07-22
NUNN ON ONE Sandra Bernhard: Feeling '#blessed' 2015-07-22
THEATER REVIEW Grand Concourse 2015-07-22
Theater Spotlight and Critics' Picks 2015-07-22
Entertainment: Jennifer Hudson; Lee Daniels; Margaret Cho; Thomas Roberts 2015-07-21
Loving Repeating musical tribute to author Gertrude Stein 2015-07-20
Piccolo's 2015/2016 season opens With local playwright adaptation 2015-07-17
Step Up Productions announces 2015-16 season 2015-07-17
Macbeth cast announced 2015-07-16
THEATER REVIEW Kiss of the Spider Woman: The Musical 2015-07-15
THEATER REVIEW Brilliant Adventures 2015-07-15
THEATER REVIEW Kinky Boots 2015-07-15
Theater Spotlight and Critics' Picks 2015-07-15
THEATER REVIEW Bard Fiction 2015-07-14
Court Theatre opens season with August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean 2015-07-13
Trap Door Season announces 2015/2016 season 2015-07-12
OUTspoken! LGBT Storytelling at Sidetrack celebrating one year 2015-07-10
Sandra Oh, Andre De Shields in Victory Gardens Theater Ignition Festival 2015-07-09
Coffee table book reveals world of burlesque 2015-07-09
DANCIN' FEATS A closer look at 'Queer, Ill & Okay' 2015-07-08
THEATER REVIEW Beaches 2015-07-08
THEATER REVIEW Bent 2015-07-08
THEATER REVIEW Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 2015-07-08
AIA exec Zurich Esposito living out childhood dream 2015-07-07
Theater Spotlight and Critics' Picks 2015-07-07
THEATER REVIEW Matawan 2015-07-07
Memorial planned for Chicago Dramatists' Russ Tutterow 2015-07-03
Chapin Hall launches 'Voices of Youth Count' 2015-07-01
SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT Broadway 'losers' 2015-07-01
THEATER REVIEW Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown 2015-07-01
THEATER REVIEW A Work of Art 2015-07-01
THEATER REVIEW Moby Dick 2015-07-01
Spotlight, Critics' Picks 2015-07-01
THEATER REVIEW The Who & the What 2015-07-01
 



Copyright © 2015 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.