With a name as generic as the Summer Music Festival, you probably wouldn’t realize the level of stardom participating: Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Patti LaBelle, The O’Jays, Babyface and Tank.
The package tour visited a ¾-full Chastain Park Amphitheatre Thursday night – a happy crowd ready to dance and sing along to hours of classics while taking breaks to fan themselves and share mini-fans (you smart, smart folks).
After opening sets from Babyface and Tank, The O’Jays – originals Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and member since the mid-‘90s Eric Grant – trotted onstage in matching white satin suits for “Love Train.”
The trio frequently introduced songs by way of, “See if you remember this one,” and the answer, based on audience participation, was always a chorus of knowing yesses.
During their quick, 30-minute set, the O’Jays, backed by a 12-member band, including a four-piece horn section that added warm tones to the music, engaged in dance steps – some synchronized, some random, but always entertaining.
Levert’s deep voice carried well on “Cry Together,” as he stalked the stage and addressed several women in the front rows with eye contact, and the threesome traded strong harmonies on “Stairway to Heaven.”
It’s been a tough decade for the 70-year-old Levert, who lost both of singer sons, Gerald and Sean, in recent years. But he’s still a consummate showman.
As Williams sang lead, Levert and Grant glided through the harmonies of the jaunty “Use Ta Be My Girl,” the song’s silken bass line an undiminished treat. And speaking of bass lines, does it get any funkier than the opening of “For the Love of Money”? Grant, in particular, seemed to enjoy dancing through that one, as Levert and Williams hammed it up beside him.
Keeping a show with this many acts moving smoothly almost never happens. But the roadies on this team hustled to change sets within 15 minutes, wheeling out a white baby grand piano with a trio of colorful stilettos sitting on top for Patti LaBelle’s set.
Patti LaBelle’s opening song at Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Thursday.
Opening with “Joy to Have You Love,” the soul diva, in flowing layers that looked exceptionally hot (as in temperature), her hair in a sleek bob, greeted the crowd with a smile before rolling through her own 35-minute show.
LaBelle is a first-class belter, but she also knows something that those kids on every singing talent show competition don’t – how to control her voice.
On both “New Day” and, later in her set, a gorgeous version of “Over the Rainbow” backed by the excellent Voice of Atlanta Choir, LaBelle steered the songs through a roller coaster of ranges.
Though she seemed a bit more subdued than performances past, LaBelle, 68, still injected plenty of passion into “If Only You Knew” and brought a jazzy lilt to “On My Own.”
Her 14-piece band, including five horn players, was fronted by pianist John Stanley, who isn’t the most inconspicuous band leader. But, perhaps LaBelle likes him to be aggressive and visible in his direction. Surely no one crosses Patti.
LaBelle received a strong assist from her backup singers during “Lady Marmalade” and later tapped into emotions with “You Are My Friend,” which swelled with inspiration. As she sang, with the choir again backing her, photos of LaBelle with celebrity friends (Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington) and non-famous friends flashed on the video screen behind her.
Then, with a kiss to the crowd, she was gone, the crowd sufficiently animated as they awaited the musical party with Maze.
(Check out our gallery for photos of last night’s show.)