Aretha Franklin Arena Theater November 17th, 2011
A grown and sexy crowd filled the room at the Arena Theater last night to welcome the undisputed Queen of Soul to Houston, the lovely Miss Aretha Franklin. Her majesty was escorted down the aisle by her team, not so much to deter the fans from interacting with her royal highness, but rather to prevent the sexagenarian singer from tripping on her long, flowy gown.
A full blues orchestra filled the air with tight horns and funky rhythm, adding to the joyous atmosphere of the already light-hearted crowd. As Miss Franklin took the microphone, she waved to her fans and blew them kisses, eliciting cheers of "We Love You, Aretha" all around. She is a living legend, with a voice and personality to match, equal parts refined lady and take-no-prisoners diva.
Her new album, titled A Woman Falling Out of Love, was released earlier this year and is available exclusively at Wal-Mart stores. The Memphis born, Detroit raised Franklin is celebrating fifty years in the business. She was also recently featured on Tony Bennett's "Duets II" album.
Aretha began the night with "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher", which flowed right into her classic hit "Think." Aftermath was instantly transported to that diner in Chicago alongside Jake, Elwood, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy, with Aretha giving us a stern finger point, lips pursed, with the other hand at her hip. In other words, we can finally mark that fantasy off our bucket list.
The audience began to dance in their seats and in the aisles, cutting loose and making new friends with their neighbors. Our favorite audience member was the older lady who walked into the venue on crutches, but due to the magical powers of music, she was instantly healed and got funky in no time.
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Now, this member of Aftermath has never been one to bitch about the sound man at a show, but when the artist onstage yells at you to "get it together", something has to be said about it. The feedback was intolerable at times, causing Aretha to exclaim "People paid too much money for this!" and even "You don't want all of us to jump down in that pit now!" The problems were fixed promptly, and the show carried on.
"Do y'all go to church?" asked the queen, driving into a gospel number. She led the crowd with glories and hallelujahs and dancing that would put even the grumpiest of grinches in a good mood. The night definitely felt spiritual, with Franklin seemingly transported back to her father's Baptist church, leading all of us to the promised land of music heaven. She still dances well for a lady her age, taking off her heels in order to shuffle and shake for the appreciative audience.
She offered up "Chain of Fools" before taking a coffee and tea break onstage to rest her vocal chords. Wrapped in a towel for warmth, she danced in her seat while the band presented a medley of blues, jazz, and funk tunes.
After the break, Aretha dialed in the B.B. King standard "Sweet Sixteen." Then, moving over to the grand piano, she played a soulful cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." She says that it's been too long since the last time he visited Houston, but lovingly remembers visiting several Houston churches with her father as a young lady. She expresses her gratitude to the crowd, and ends the show with her signature song, "Respect."
As she walked offstage in her fur coat, she blew more kisses, waived and disappeared. The queen has left the building.
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Personal Bias: The diner scene of The Blues Brothers movie. Nuff said!
The Crowd: Men in fedoras & suits; women in their Sunday best
Overheard in the Crowd: "Save my ticket, girl! Gotta keep it for my memoirs!"
Random Notebook Dump: check out http://www.fabianlozano.com. Fabian is the Arena Theater's house photographer, and a helluva nice guy!