Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire Remain Timeless at Toyota Center

Singer-songwriter Lionel Richie performs his hits at Toyota Center.
Singer-songwriter Lionel Richie performs his hits at Toyota Center. Photo by Jennifer Lake

Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire
Sing a Song All Night Long Tour
Toyota Center
September 2, 2023

When I was in high school at Jesse H. Jones Senior High in the south side of Houston, I played alto saxophone in the marching band. One of the main songs in the band's repertoire was "September" by Earth Wind & Fire. We spent hours learning the music, marching to the beat, and performing what I would later learn was one of the greatest songs in American music history.

The band was supposed to perform as the opening act for Carlos Santana in The Woodlands in 2020 and 2022, but those shows were postponed. They were also set to perform at Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival back in 2021, which was ultimately canceled due to the tragedy that occurred during day one of the event. So when I heard that Earth Wind & Fire was set to perform alongside Lionel Richie here in Houston, I jumped at the opportunity.

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Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White is shown on the video board behind the band during their performance at Toyota Center.
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Saturday evening's show in at Toyota Center was a lovely affair. My birthday falls on September 1, which makes me a Virgo. At 43 years old, I wasn't the youngest person in the audience, but I suspect I was darn close to the youngest! The show began fairly early at 7:30 p.m, and the tone was brilliant from the beginning. Earth Wind & Fire kicked off their set with "Shining Star,", which had everyone clapping on beat and dancing in their seats.

Although the band was set as the opening act, this was more of a co-headlining situation. Opening acts normally play for 20-30 minutes, but not this crew. Hits such as "Serpentine Fire" "Sing A Song" and "Got To Get You Into My Life" rounded out the first portion of a 15-song, hour long set.

"Every song we play tonight might not have been on the Top 10 charts, but they definitely were Top 10 in your hearts!" proclaimed lead singer Philip Bailey, one of the three remaining original members of the band still performing and touring. Bass player Verdine White and singer/percussionist Ralph “Slick” Johnson round out that trio.
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Bassist and original member Verdine White performs with high energy throughout the evening during Earth, Wind & Fire's set at Toyota Center.
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Other highlights of their set included "Fantasy", "After The Love Has Gone", and "Boogie Wonderland". The band performed in front of the giant LED video boards which showed archival photos and video footage from the bands history, as well as vividly colorful 1980s era dreamscapes, Egyptian motifs, and visuals of the sky, space, and beyond.

Their set ended with "September", "Let's Groove Tonight" and "In The Stone."

After a quick stage transition, it was time for Mr. Commodores himself to take the stage. Lionel Richie is a legendary American singer-songwriter who has been part of the fabric of modern American music for more than 50 years. He has written and produced songs with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, and is one of the best selling musical artists of all-time. In 2022, Richie was inducting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His set began strong with "Hello," which is perhaps his most well-known song. Richie was elevated onto center stage surrounded by bright white beans of light. He wore a white long-tailed coat as he smiled wide into the crowd. "I love you Houston, let's get things started" he yelled with great energy and confidence.

One thing I wasn't prepared for was the amount of stage banter Richie works into his performance. In between and during his set, he was constantly cracking jokes and making the audience laugh. "You sing, and I will try to remember the lyrics" he jokingly proclaimed to the fans.

Richie sat down behind his gorgeous all-white grand piano and continued the evening with the timeless ballad "Easy Like Sunday Morning." The video screen behind him on stage made it seem like he was a celestial vision, something that would visit you in a dream, almost like Mufasa in The Lion King.
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Lionel Richie performed many of his timeless classic songs as the headliner of the "Sing A Song All Night Long" Tour alongside Earth, Wind & Fire at Toyota Center.
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Performing after Earth Wind & Fire is a big ask for any act, but Lionel Richie and his spectacular band were certainly up to the tall task. I especially loved the saxophone player, who played, danced, and joked around with Richie in the most entertaining manner possible. I would pay to watch a show just with that guy.

"I have the best job in the world!" continued Richie. "Come on, fellas! I warm them up, and you get to take them home!" The set list continued with "Stuck On You", "Dancing On The Ceiling", and "Three Times a Lady."

A message of positivity and unity was at the forefront of Richie's set. "We are all together on this planet! One human race and one family!" he preached during his set. Songs like "We Are The World", "Say You, Say Me" and "Endless Love" contributed to the positive vibes of the evening.

As the evening drew to a close, it was time for more dance numbers. "Brick House" and "Fire" were crowd favorites, and then the show ended with the amazing track "All Night Long." Richie strutted along the stage in a sparky red jacket, thanking his fans and waving to the crowd. His fans applauded in appreciation, not only for tonight, but for a lifetime of amazing musical contributions from both acts on this tour.
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Lionel Richie played a set list full of timeless classics from his early Commodores days as well as his solo numbers.
Photo by Jennifer Lake
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When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Houston Press contributor Marco both writes and points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond.