Labelle Blows

Happy new year, furthermuckers! I spent half of last month in my old hometown of New York City visiting friends and fam for the holidays, with no means (or time) to document any of it. But there was the Alvin Ailey 50th anniversary show with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra doing Duke Ellington behind the dancers; there was my Sly Stone multimedia reading at Barbès in Park Slope, Brooklyn; there was Labelle at the Apollo and much more.

Let’s build.

Spoiler: Patti Labelle’s voice blew out the Apollo’s amplifiers! Concert cancelled in mid-stride. (No riot, much to Harlem’s credit.) Labelle – the glam R&B/borderline-rock trio from the 70s made up of Nona Hendryx, Patti Labelle and Sarah Dash – hadn’t performed live in over 30 years. Like I said for the Voice in November: “opening for the Who and the Stones sportin glam that could make Bowie throw shade, the girls were a genre-bending phenom that couldn’t debut today in a gazillion years.” Their Apollo date, one day after my b-day, was their return to the stage in support of Back to Now, a Lenny Kravitz/Gamble & Huff-produced album that ain’t half bad. I scored a press ticket, and my parents were due to come with, having paid for their own $75 nosebleed upper-mezzanine seats.

And so, what had happened was: a snowstorm hit the city. Which turned to rain. And the resultant mush ruined the Apollo’s wiring. Moms refused to troop from the Bronx; I took the missus, who was all too familiar with Labelle’s “voulez-vous coucher avec moi.” Labelle’s not a favorite old school group of mine, not particularly. I’ve got a soft spot for Nightbirds (especially “Space Children” and “All Girl Band”) from hearing the album nonstop when I was 3, but that’s nearly it. But a night like this was clearly history in the making; I couldn’t not go, especially on a rare trip from Paris to NYC. The trio opened with the Cole Porter cover “Miss Otis Regrets,” did a truncated “You Turn Me On” (another personal all-time favorite), and tried to tackle “Candelight” when all of a sudden, Patti sounded muffled. And the sound never improved.

A timeout was called. Twenty minutes later, the Apollo institued an open-bar free-drinks policy while waiting for Con Edison to show up to Harlem at 9pm in the pouring sleet. I bumped into old Vibe cronies like Bevy Smith and current Apollo publicist Nina Flowers; junket journalist Karu Daniels; and my ooold school homie Courtney Anderson from college summer Tower Video days. Found Dad, told him I was certain they weren’t coming back on from the moment they closed the curtain.

Then they came back on. Flanked by a 40+ choir. A cappella, without microphones, Labelle blew the house down with “(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood.” Tickets were refunded for everyone who couldn’t make it back the following night, but they did it all over again 24 hours later. I couldn’t make it – Harlem dinner party – but I still left feeling I caught the real history right there. At 64, still ain’t no force like the voice of Patti Labelle.