I arrive at Hyde Park about halfway through today’s stream of concerts. I catch some of Corinne Bailey Ray’s gig and Lianne La Havas. Both are undoubtedly great, but neither quite have the repertoire of songs that captivate me. Also, I have other things on my mind, finding a spot. Many people are sitting and standing on the lawn, half watching the stage, half eating picnics, having drinks, and soon after I sit down, the second-to-Stevie-Wonder-headliner of the day, Lionel Richie, takes to the stage.
Lionel Richie is pure energy right from the start. In contrast to Stevie Wonder, he’s an ultimate showman, which sometimes hides that he’s also a songwriter, an artist. But no doubt he knows his stuff, and it’s impressive how good he is at getting the audience excited. The art of getting a crowd excited is partly due to the willingness of the said crowd to get involved. But if you’re as personable and intent on connecting with the audience as Richie is, it’s hard to imagine how he wouldn’t have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
Of course, his vocals are impeccable, of the non-autotune-autocorrect-but-absolutely-real kind. He’s one of the old-schoolers who doesn’t need to resort to fakery. I don’t own any Lionel Richie records, yet every song seems familiar. The second song is a Commodores song, Easy, which I heard as a cover by Faith No More before I heard the original.
Lionel Richie must be aware he’s excellent at what he does musically, but he also fancies himself as a bit of a stand-up comedian. I do not doubt if he put all his energy into creating a set of jokes, he’d excel at that too. He’s amusing, and his comedy-timing is spot on. Before the song Endless Love, he builds up the crowd’s anticipation that Diana Ross could perhaps join him for this duet. ‘For the last 35 years, I’ve invited Diana Ross to join me, also on this stage tonight. And for 35 years, she’s told me, no.’
I forgot he co-wrote We Are the World, which might be the tackiest moment of the set. Sure the message of the song is well-intended, but a little bit too cheesy for my ears. Yet, the song is a home run with the crowd, and you can’t help but join in and sing along; after all, ‘we are the world” indeed.
As Richie leaves the stage after the encore, All Night Long, I’m wondering how Stevie Wonder will live up to that amount of audience participation. Sure, he has the songs, the skills, the voice, and all the rest of it. But the showmanship-award goes to Lionel Richie, and I am slightly worried that his personable performance will be difficult for Wonder to live up to.
Lionel Richie setlist
1. Running With the Night
2. Easy (Commodores song)
3. Penny Lover
4. You Are
5. Stuck On You
6. Brick House / Fire (Commodores song)
7. Three Times a Lady (Commodores song)
8. Sail On (Commodores song)
9. Lady (You Bring Me Up) (Commodores song)
10. Endless Love (Diana Ross & Lionel Richie cover)
12. My Destiny
13. Dancing On the Ceiling
15. Say You, Say Me
16. We Are the World (USA for Africa cover)
17. All Night Long (All Night)