Lionel Richie Makes It Look More Than Easy at Toyota Center
Photo by Marco Torres

Lionel Richie Makes It Look More Than Easy at Toyota Center

Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Tauren Wells
Toyota Center
August 4, 2017

Buffets are almost always a bad idea. They cost a lot, the food is rarely worth it and you have to eat yourself stupid in order to get your money’s worth. You might leave satisfied, but it’s a satisfaction tainted with regret that goes away only with a right and proper food coma, or at least a few hours of immobility on the couch.

But every now and then you hit the jackpot, and you feast at a buffet that not only satisfies but leaves you guilt-free. Sure, you overate, but for the near future you won’t need food, and you’ll tell people for years about that one time at that one buffet.

There are going to be a lot of folks talking about that one time with Lionel Richie for years to come. He’s not had a single in the Top 10 of the Hot 100 since 1986, but the music he wrote before then is legendary, and for an hour and 45 minutes or so on Friday night, he played hit after hit after hit. There were no deep cuts, no new tracks trying to pretend they’re as important as the classics, no fat or bathroom-break filler. Lionel Richie didn’t come to Houston to give any less than some of the best songs of all time, one of the greatest sonic feasts a music fan could hope for.

Note: Media photography was not approved for Mariah Carey's set Friday.
Note: Media photography was not approved for Mariah Carey's set Friday.
Photo by Marco Torres

It was not the hits that impress when it comes to a Mariah Carey show in 2017. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have songs that still give a nostalgic rush — “Hero” and “Always Be My Baby” are always going to be classics — but more than anything, what carries a Mariah performance these days is her attitude. She picks and chooses her moments of brilliance — “We Belong Together” will impress even the biggest haters — sure, but there’s something charming about someone who picks and chooses her battles the way Mariah does. She’ll say what she wants, whether it’s complaining about the stage or letting everyone know she’s drinking tea not liquor, because it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks about her; she knows who she is, and that’s Mariah Carey, and even if another generation of pop stars have risen, she’ll always carry herself like the queen diva she knows she is.

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And that kind of inherent confidence can be just as if not more engaging than a musically flawless set.

Lionel Richie moves across the stage with the comfort of a longtime comedian who knows everything he’s about to say is gold. His between-song banter is rehearsed enough to the point of sounding completely natural, and even his more problematic material landed without sounding malicious.

Lionel Richie Makes It Look More Than Easy at Toyota Center
Photo by Marco Torres

But in the end, it was really all about the music. It was a show that flew by, never dragging, even though much of what he played was on the slower, softer side of things. No show that starts with “Easy” was ever going to be a sprint. But in giving the crowd what they wanted, over and over and over again, Richie keeps their energy up, which keeps things flowing right along. And his few big, upbeat numbers really sparkled because of it, including the ’80s neon celebration that is “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

By the time the end of the night rolled around and the crowd was grooving to “All Night Long,” it seemed like everyone was in the best spirits except for those who showed up refusing to get into it before the first note played. But those who couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the gems that Richie had to offer really missed out on something special; even though he wasn’t the God he must have been in the late ’70s and early ’80s, 2017 Lionel Richie is still a master performer. Some songs, like some recipes, always go down good and leave you wanting just a little bit more, even when you don’t think you can take another bite or hear another hit.

So, How Was the Opener?: I’m not sure this show needed an opening act, but maybe Mariah just refuses to take the stage first. In any case, good on Tauren Wells for making the most of his 20 minutes onstage. The Houston-based Wells has quite the voice and some pretty good songs to match, not to mention an infectious positivity.

Personal Bias: Rich Swann is pretty great.Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers” is one of the greatest lines in hip-hop history.

The Crowd: A lot of hand-singers, making big, broad motions during entire songs as they fell into the moment.

Overheard In the Crowd: “Do you think we should walk around and see if it gets better?” The couple behind me was not impressed with the loudness of the bass as Lionel Richie’s set started, and I admire their optimism that they’d find somewhere that it would be less of a problem.

Random Notebook Dump: Of all the shows for there not to be guys getting their “plays the saxophone” hustle on outside the show...

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