Aretha Franklin wows with memorable show

A review of Aretha Franklin at the South Shore Music Circus Tent on August 1, 2010

, Contributing Writer

Few performers can boast a list of achievements as long as Aretha Franklin. At 68-years of age, Franklin remains a truly legendary performer that everyone should have the pleasure of seeing perform live at least once. On Sunday, she made her back to Massachusetts for a show at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset that proved she still has all the attributes that have made her the Queen of Soul.

The outdoor venue was reminiscent of a garden with bunches of big white flowers in bloom surrounding the entire perimeter of the tent. The concessions were cottage-like, and the property was enclosed with a neat picket white fence. It was the type of night that this venue was created for. The air was warm but dry, and the sun sunk lower into the sky as Franklin was escorted from her dressing room and up the outdoor path where crowds of fans were bustling and swarming to catch a glance and snap a photograph of the legendary diva.

With the lively crowd showering her with praise, Franklin calmly took the stage. After removing her pink jacket to expose a stunning sequined gold dress with shawl, she blew kisses and waved. “This is going to be fun!,” she declared as she cued her band to start the show with “Respect”, a obvious crowd favorite. The Music Tent’s circular stage was the perfect compliment to her act. The stage rotated slowly throughout the concert, accommodating the 360 degree full-circle seating arrangement. The setup was simple, yet classic. There were three pieces of equipment on stage: A baby grand piano, a Hammond B3 Organ and a Leslie Rotary Amp. To her left in the pit next to the stage was her orchestra, with a full percussion section including bongos and auxiliary percussion, as well as a full horn section that accompanied her throughout the evening.

Franklin’s voice was just as rich as ever, deliberate in everything she sang. The band was on point, crisp and stylistic. Moving through the show, she slowed it down to perform “Natural Woman” with a soulful and improvisational introduction. The song was full of emotion with her vibrato and powerful runs. Continuing the feel with “As If We Never Say Goodbye”, she had deep connections with both the piano player and auxiliary percussionist that accompanied her onstage, as they were constantly exchanging glances, and communicating with their eyes. She ended her soulful ballad under a solo spotlight, kneeling and the lights fading to complete darkness.

Announcing that she will be releasing a classical album later this fall, Franklin took a seat at the piano to perform “Ombra mai fù” from the 1738 opera Serse by George Frederick Handel. She performed the piece stylistically, with a few soulful inflections of course, and her high range was astounding. It created the imagery of sunlight pouring through a window pane. Her interpretation was earthy and rich. The audience was both surprised and stunned.

Mid-way through set, Franklin took a well deserved break and turned the spotlight over to her band to performing the jazz standard “Take the A Train”. The song featured solos from every part of the group from the saxophone, trumpet, piano, trombone, bongos and even an unexpected synth improvisation! They were tight. Their ups and downs were like the ebb and flow of an ocean, and moved through many nuances and style changes uniformly. They were a great match for Aretha and her music.

Franklin rejoined the band and continued the show with a parade of hits including “Baby I Love You”, “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Chain of Fools”. Through it all, she didn’t miss a single beat. Franklin’s vocal stamina was impressive to say the least. Through all of quick tunes, improvisations and high note holds, she remained powerful throughout both sets. More impressively, Franklin switched to various genre subsets, such as funk, R&B, soul, shuffle, Memphis, ballads and even opera. Changing subtly to suit the mood of each song, she added her own unique inflection to them all, a true creative musician.

Ending her second set with “Freeway”, the band was in an all-out jam while Franklin “drove a car” with her right arm while improvising and dancing, as well. The energy was high, and the crowd was loving every moment. As she closed the night with her encore, “My Country Tis of Thee”, the entire audience stood. Heartfelt and bold, she sang the final song in stride. She extended an outro to the text “Let Freedom Ring” and a sense of peace settled over the room, as if wrapping it in a warm blanket. It was a stunning close to an memorable show that left the crowd roaring with approval while some even wiped away tears.

To watch Aretha Franklin sing is a gift. There is something so genuine in her face, and through her eyes, you can feel her emotions. She has the ability to make others feel joy through her own love of music. On Sunday night in Cohasset, she hosted an uplifting experience. Both captivating and enchanting, Franklin proved she is one of the most legendary performers of all time and rightfully titled the one and only Queen of Soul.

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