Concert review: Out of the wings and into the spotlight with Darlene Love at Capitol Theater

The voice behind so many great girl group-era hits takes centerstage with a new album and a fantastic backing band.

click to enlarge Concert review: Out of the wings and into the spotlight with Darlene Love at Capitol Theater - TRACY MAY
Concert review: Out of the wings and into the spotlight with Darlene Love at Capitol Theater

The ageless, boundless bundle of vocal prowess and energy named Darlene Love strolled into the Capitol Theatre on Wednesday night and about near tore the place down the minute she let that miraculous voice soar. Clad in black sparkly mini dress, stiletto heels and sporting youthful blonde hairdo, the goddess of girl group sounds proved that her towering, trademark vocal goldmine — which can undoubtedly rattle windows and make cement walls shake — hasn't wavered a single bit.

Simply stated, had the effervescent Ms. Love not had a working microphone to use during her dynamite performance, no one in the cozy Clearwater theater would have had a hard time hearing her perfectly articulate and truly amazing delivery. Hell, no one in the surrounding neighborhood would have that problem, either. Saying Darlene's awesome pipes are still as strong as ever is a gross understatement as anyone in attendance would certainly attest to.

Dividing the night's performance into two equal halves, Darlene and her fine 11-piece band dedicated Act I to her most recent effort, 2015's critically acclaimed, Steve Van Zandt-produced Introducing Darlene Love. Working her way effortlessly through a barrage of tunes from the songwriting heavyweights who contributed to her celebrated comeback album, Love and her three terrific backup singers made material written by the likes of Elvis Costello and Jimmy Webb all her own. 

A nod to her friend and longtime supporter Joan Jett preceded a scintillating, slow burning version of Jett's 1988 radio hit "Little Liar." "Is it possible to have a hero who is half your age?" Love pondered in talking up the tough rocker. "Well, if so, then Joan Jett is my hero!" she announced before giving props to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's most recent female inductee. 

click to enlarge Concert review: Out of the wings and into the spotlight with Darlene Love at Capitol Theater (2) - TRACY MAY
Concert review: Out of the wings and into the spotlight with Darlene Love at Capitol Theater (2)
Serving as part trip through memory lane and part history lesson, Love took every opportunity to educate the crowd about her introduction to the world of music and being (arguably) the most recognizable backup singer who never had a richly deserved spotlight shone on her alone. Reminiscing about her original group The Blossoms and the doors they broke down for other emerging young black singers, and taking a few swipes at much maligned and notorious hardass record producer and mogul Phil Spector, Love filled in the gaps between songs with endearing banter and buckets of charm.

A hard rocking version of glam rocker Michel Des Barres's "Painkiller" showed off the talents of everyone on the crowded stage, from each of the two keyboardists to the busy percussionist and those superb backup singers. A bit of political commentary came during Webb's protest song "Who Under Heaven," which featured some clips of political protests and hunger-stricken children on the large video screen at the rear of the stage that were, at times, hard to watch.

The mood would soon lighten, however. After a brief intermission then a couple of rousing numbers handled by the backup crew alone, Love re-emerged revamped, remade and remodeled in another sparkly blouse and some painted-on leather pants, primed and ready to tackle the material she built her reputation on — and the songs most in attendance came to hear; "the classics!" as she lovingly referred to them. 

Love dove headfirst into hit after hit, getting things going with "He's Sure The Boy I Love" and seeming to sink her teeth into the classic she's sung thousands of time with exuberance and gusto. "He's A Rebel," a song on which she ghosted lead vocals but was credited to another girl group, The Crystals, came with a comical intro regarding the real story behind the recording of that massive hit.

The evening's most touching moment came when Darlene polled the crowd to find out which couple in attendance had been married the longest. After finding a pair who'd been wed for over 50 years, she dedicated her wedding staple "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" to them and delivered a flawless rendition of it.

While lamenting about her age (Love is now 74), Darlene showed no signs of slowing down or taking it easy. Her set-closing show-stopping version of "River Deep, Mountain High" — a song more commonly associated with Tina Turner — was staged with more funny anecdotes and, more impressively, packed a mightier punch than any current vocalist half her age could ever dream of mustering.

A true entertainer who is finally getting her fair share of attention, thanks largely in part to the exposure she received in 2013's documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom — which focused on the often overlooked significance of backup singers throughout history — Darlene Love proved to a roomful of believers on Wednesday night that she is, was, and always will be a spotlight-worthy, scene-stealing lead vocalist who deserves every bit of credit for making good songs great with her mightiest gift: her indelible and unmistakably towering voice. 

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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