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Labelle Reunite - "Lady Marmalade" and All - For First Tour in Three Decades

February 2, 2009 12:50 PM ET

Unpredictability reigned at the Oakland stop on Labelle's first tour since its three soul queens split in 1976. After a surprise introduction from actor Danny Glover, a six-member band and three background vocalists joined the trio onstage at the Paramount Theatre in fiery, cymbal-splashed renditions of tracks from classic Labelle LPs like Nightbirds and last year's rootsy reunion disc Back to Now. Songs were alternately condensed or stretched out with lengthy interactions between leader Patti LaBelle and fellow singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, all of whom sported feather-festooned costumes that evoked the flight theme of their heyday's iconic space maiden outfits.

There was plenty of crowd participation, some of it invited — three guys sang and danced onstage during Labelle's enduring ode to a New Orleans streetwalker, "Lady Marmalade" — and some of it thrust upon the trio. A parade of well-wishers offered lavish gifts, and one fan grabbed a microphone to monologue about himself until a muscular but motherly Hendrix coaxed back the abused mike.

As Hendryx herself admitted, these women intentionally foster this sense of freedom: They've held on to a politicized consciousness far removed from the usual slick oldies show. Patti improvised a chant of "No more Bush," and a crowd dominated by African-American couples and gay men roared in unison. She repeatedly replaced her kicked-off shoes from a vast collection of glittering pumps that sat atop the grand piano, and shook her tail feathers at the circulation fans. "I'm menopausal, diabetic, 64 years old, and everything is good," she boasted. Yet the close and complex harmonies that poured out of Labelle shone like rays from an early morning sun. This beloved retirement-age trio showed no sign of dimming.

Set List:
"Miss Otis Regrets"
"Get You Somebody New"
"Messin' With My Mind"
"Superlover"
"Good Intentions"
"Without You in My Life"
"You Turn Me On"
"Candlelight"
"Rollout"
"Lady Marmalade"

(Interlude medley/costume change)
"Hollywood Suite Prelude"
"Come Into My Life"
"Are You Lonely?"
"Come Into My Life" reprise/"(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood?"
"Get You Somebody New"
"Somebody Somewhere"
"System"
"Isn't It a Shame"
"Nightbird"

Encore:
"What Can I Do For You?"

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