Patti LaBelle treated like soul royalty at Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center
WILKES-BARRE — When one of the matriarchs of soul comes to town, her disciples pay homage. The audience at the F.M. Kirby Center filled an on-stage couch with flowers for Patti LaBelle Friday night.
LaBelle, who has maintained her status as one of soul’s most powerful vocalists over a 52-year career, brought the Public Square theater a care package full of funk, R&B and gospel, and she delivered it with the grace and appreciation for her admirers that defines great artists and entertainers.
Draped in emerald green, LaBelle walked out to a funky intro by her seven-piece band and greeted the audience with an animated performance of “Feels Like Another One,” prompting immediate cheers.
Wyatt Thompson, of Long Pond, said “legend” was the first word that came to mind when he thought of LaBelle. Thompson had seen LaBelle perform live on four previous occasions.
“When I see Patti’s coming to the Kirby Center, I’m coming,” Thompson said. “Once you hear her sing the first time, you’re sold. I’d travel twice as far to see her.”
LaBelle followed her opener with R&B ballad “If You Only Knew,” hitting resounding high notes that had the crowd roaring mid song.
Fan favorite, “If You Asked Me To” came next. LaBelle took a moment to recognize Celine Dion’s talent in covering the song but urged the audience to not “get it twisted” and reminded her fans that she performed the tune first.
LaBelle showed her affinity for current R&B, performing her rendition of Major’s “Why I Love You,” which received a pleasantly surprised reaction from her audience.
Her delivery of “Little Girls” was riveting, almost theatrical in its combining of LaBelle’s hair-raising vocals and her band’s orchestral instrumentation.
The Grammy-winner took another funky turn with “When You Talk About Love,” which infected the room with such a desire to dance that one audience member shimmied up to the stage.
When a member of the security team approached him to move him back to his seat, LaBelle spoke up, saying, “Sir, he’s alright.” The gyrating fan was allowed to join the diva on stage, where they danced together and she gave him one of her flowers.
The crowd was already eating of her hand, but this grand gesture endeared them to LaBelle even more. Applause between each song became extended to celebrate the icon as much as her performance.
She joked about being forgetful between tunes and playfully said “next” to transition to each new song.
LaBelle took on a spectacular cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, taking her vocal improvisation to such moving heights that the song sounded like it could have only been hers.
Emanating positive energy, LaBelle showed her spiritual side with emotional gospel performances of “When You’ve Been Blessed” and “Every Praise.”
But it was her rendition of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” that became a pinnacle performance moment as LaBelle let each of her backup vocalists and instrumentalists take long solo turns as the soul queen emceed the jam.
“I think she’s great,” Paula Hardy, of Wilkes-Barre said. “I’m from her hometown, Philly, originally, and I love her.”
LaBelle was still captivating the Kirby Center audience at press time.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts