Lionel Richie celebrated his birthday – and his massive catalog of hits – during an enormously entertaining, if slightly damp, evening at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Friday.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the 65-year-old several times during the two-hour show, and was led in a “Happy Birthday” sing-along at the end of the night by surprise guest Kid Rock, who hit the stage to celebrate the special occasion, from one Ritchie to another Richie.
The party didn’t come cheap: Richie was in the middle of performing “All Night Long” when DTE’s 11 p.m. curfew came and went. As he was exiting the stage, he was stopped and brought back out while a video rolled of his celeb pals wishing him a happy birthday, including Barbra Streisand, Piers Morgan, Tim McGraw, Lenny Kravitz, Luke Bryan, Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony, Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Buffett, Sidney Poitier, and his daughters Nicole and Sofia Richie. Following Rock’s tribute (Rock to Richie: “I can’t believe you didn’t call me and invite me to the show, mother [bleeper]”), Richie closed the concert with “We Are the World,” while balloons dropped from the venue rafters. The show wrapped at 11:18, which given DTE’s strict $1000-per-minute-over-curfew policies, will result in an $18,000 fine.
But Richie was having so much fun on stage, and the crowd was having so much fun with him, that it hardly mattered. It would have been a memorable evening even if it wasn’t recognizing Richie’s 65 years of life, but the fact that it was made it that much sweeter. Richie himself mentioned his birthday at least a half-dozen times, joking about his age (“I turn 79 tonight!” he said at one point; later he remarked, “I don’t feel a day over 100!”) and saying he had no plans for retirement.
Nor should he. Richie is presently in the midst of a career revitalization, as evidenced by the sizable crowd on hand at DTE Friday, despite a persistent rain showering the fans on the lawn. Richie has always been around, but he never milked concert crowds by trotting out his hits on tour summer after summer, which has allowed him to seize this current moment and flourish once again.
And he treated the night like his own triumphant return, boasting about his number of hits, outstretching his arms after each song and blowing kisses to the crowd like a king addressing his subjects from the balcony of his castle. Richie is such an immensely likeable character and such a confident performer that he didn’t come off as arrogant, but rather confident, and that confidence translated to showmanship. He had the crowd in his grasp from the beginning and he never let go.
The 23-song show touched on all his hits, from his ’70s showstoppers with the Commodores to his ’80s solo material. The last 25 years haven’t brought much in the way of additions to his brigade of hits, but that didn’t matter: Richie is a throwback, and he’s perfectly comfortable being a throwback. Still he gave his material a fresh presentation with a crisp, sharp production, allowing him to bring those hits into the present. Songs like “All Night Long,” “Dancing on the Ceiling” (which included a piece of Van Halen’s “Jump”) and “Easy” (which was teased out with a reggae outro) are so vibrant and full of life that they occupy a space all their own, away from coolness or trends or other metrics we use to measure music. They’re just great songs, and they’re fun songs, and you can’t help but have fun while listening to them.
Richie himself, when not strutting around on stage (he looks and sounds great, it’s worth mentioning), strung together some great moments of banter in between songs, including one extended rap about a breakup that he turned into a lively call-and-response chant, and another where he teased the arrival of Diana Ross only to say she turned down his invitation to come play with him. He was grinning the entire show, and his five-piece band kept things bouncing all night, especially when his saxophone player put his feet up on Richie’s piano and closed out “Dancing on the Ceiling” while playing upside down.
The best crowds can hope from a touring show is that something takes that night, shakes it up and makes it special, elevating it above just another tour stop. Friday’s show had that magic, and won’t soon be forgotten.
The intro to the show featured a bit of one of Richie’s most famous songs, and he performed it in full later in the show. “Hello?” he asked. “Is it me you’re looking for?” It turns out that it was, and is, and has been all along.