Live in Washington, D.C. serves up nearly 80 nonstop minutes with all the energy and attitude that define Patti LaBelle in performance. The venerable R&B diva -- heard here in front of a very responsive crowd -- is captured on the road supporting her then most recent long-player, 1982's The Spirit's in It. That early-'80s project marked LaBelle's multi-album run on Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records label. And according to their liner notes essay, it was in Gamble & Huff's tape vault that this concert has languished for the better part of three decades. The ensemble backing LaBelle includes her longtime musical director and keyboardist, James "Budd" Ellison, who leads the musicians through a thoughtfully chosen sampling of selections ranging from material from her concurrent effort and reaching all the way back to the days when she was the namesake of the glam-funk trio simply named LaBelle, alongside Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash. The artist pumps every ounce of her musical being into the riveting and edgy update of the chart-topping "Lady Marmalade." Likewise, the LaBelle ballad "Isn't It a Shame" retains all the command of the original. Patti LaBelle's most recent solo output dominates the remainder of the set. She certainly knows how to work the assembled masses as she quips, "[A]nything you want me to sing, just ask me baby and I'll do that for ya," adding, "That's what I came here for." LaBelle is greeted with an eruption of approval as she launches into a stunning reading of "Come What May" from 1979's It's Alright with Me. Two more tunes from that album -- "Music Is My Way of Life" and the title track -- are presented in a medley along with the last of the vintage LaBelle classics, "What Can I Do for You?" Although it would be another three years before Patti LaBelle would release her version, another standout comes from none other than the Gamble & Huff songbook as she reworks "If You Don't Know Me by Now" into her own statement. Other inspired inclusions are the groovy "Joy to Have Your Love" and the highly personalized and otherwise showstopping adaptation of "Over the Rainbow."
Live in Washington, D.C. Review
by Lindsay Planer