Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-12-08
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor


  IDENTITY

Review: LaBelle at the Chicago Theater
by Vern Hester
2009-02-01

This article shared 4502 times since Sun Feb 1, 2009
facebook twitter 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.


This article shared 4502 times since Sun Feb 1, 2009
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

PASSAGES Pansy Kings performance artist, education advocate Murray McKay 2022-01-20
- Pansy Kings performance artist, education advocate, curator, designer and LGBTQ activist Edward Murray McKay died Jan. 4 of cancer. He was 53. McKay was born Oct. 2, 1968, in Brussels, Belgium. The family moved to Toronto ...


Gay News

THEATER Red Orchid's 'The Moors' running through Feb. 27 2022-01-15
- A Red Orchid Theatre is running Jen Silverman's The Moors, directed by Artistic Director and Ensemble Member Kirsten Fitzgerald, through Feb. 27 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St. The plot is as follows: ...


Gay News

THEATER About Face announces cast of queer-themed 'Laced' 2022-01-14
- About Face Theatre begins its 27th season with the world premiere of Samantha Mueller's drama Laced, running March 17-April 16 at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Set in the aftermath of the vandalism of ...


Gay News

Black Ensemble Theatre announces 2022 Season of Excellence: The Season of Healings 2022-01-14
-- From a press release - Chicago, IL—Black Ensemble Theater's Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor announces its 2022 Season of Excellence: The Season of Healings. The 2022 Season includes four World Premiere musicals showcasing the power ...


Gay News

THEATER DuSable, puppet company to run Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye' 2022-01-13
- The DuSable Museum of African American History is partnering with the 4th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival to present a production of The Bluest Eye, based on Toni Morrison's 1970 groundbreaking coming-of-age novel. The production will ...


Gay News

THEATER 'This Is Only a Test' Feb. 11-March 12 2022-01-12
- Broken Nose Theatre, a pay-what-you-can theater company, is welcoming back live audiences this winter with the world premiere of Eric Reyes Loo's drama This Is Only a Test, directed by Toma Tavares Langston. The production will ...


Gay News

THEATER Queer-themed 'Queen of the Night' to run Jan. 29-March 13 2022-01-11
- Victory Gardens Theater is slated to open its 2021-22 Mainstage Season with Queen of the Night, written by travis tate and directed by Victory Gardens Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin. Queen of the Night features Terry Guest ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Mary Rose' running through Feb. 12 2022-01-10
- Black Button Eyes (BBE) Productions is concluding its 2021-22 season with the world-premiere musical Mary Rose, featuring book and lyrics by Producing Artistic Director Ed Rutherford, music and lyrics by Jeff Bouthiette, direction by Ed Rutherford ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Queens of Infinite Space' canceled because of COVID 2022-01-07
- With the increase in COVID-19 cases in Chicago and beyond, Proboscis Theatre has decided to cancel the performances of The Queens of Infinite Space set to run at Epiphany Center for Arts, 201 S. Ashland Ave., ...


Gay News

THEATER Steppenwolf delays '1919' premiere due to COVID 2022-01-07
- Due to the COVID-19 surge driven by the Omicron variant, and out of an abundance of caution for public health, Steppenwolf Theatre Company has postponed its Steppenwolf for Young Adults world-premiere adaptation of Eve L. Ewing's ...


Gay News

Mercury Theater Chicago announces casting and artists for 'Women of Soul' 2022-01-06
--From a press release - Chicago —Artistic Director Christopher Chase Carter, Managing Director Shane Murray-Corcoran, and Executive Producers Walter Stearns and Eugene Dizonannounce the cast and creative team for the next Mainstage production of the ...


Gay News

THEATER Trans performer Sis is doin' fine in 'Oklahoma!' 2022-01-05
- This isn't your typical grandma's Oklahoma! The very first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein opened on Broadway in 1943 and continues to captivate audiences today. The dialogue remains the same, but updated casting choices have ...


Gay News

COVID Raven Theatre cancels production of 'Beautiful Thing' 2022-01-05
- Raven Theatre announced it will cancel its upcoming production of Beautiful Thing due to the current surge of the COVID Omicron variant. The production, written by Jonathan Harvey and directed by Mikael Burke, was slated to ...


Gay News

ATTRACTIONS 'Dr. Seuss' extended through Jan. 23 2022-01-05
- The Dr. Seuss Experience—the immersive spectacle that gives guests of all ages the opportunity to journey through nine different Dr. Seuss books—will now take place on Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, Jan. 23. The attraction is ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Winnie the Pooh' running March 15-June 12 2022-01-05
- After its run in New York City, Jonathan Rockefeller's Disney's Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation will arrive in Chicago on March 15 and will run through June 12 at the Mercury Theatre Chicago, ...


 



Copyright © 2022 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


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.