Aretha Franklin (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic) 06/26/09
Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, CA
Words/Photos/ by Justin
If the King of Pop had not passed away Thursday afternoon, I would not have spent my Friday night in the presence of the Queen of Soul. Driving past the Hollywood Bowl on my way to work Friday morning, the name on the marquee seemed to stick out just a bit more. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, A living legend. Perhaps I should go I thought to myself. So I did. With my picnic lunch in hand, I hit the streets and made the 30 minute walk up to the historic summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
One could not walk through the streets of Hollywood without being reminded of the King of Pop’s death. Every five feet, someone is selling a tribute T-shirt. Hollywood Blvd was a traffic nightmare as news vans lined up as far as the eye can see, covering the long line of individuals looking to pay their respect at the King’s star. I made my way to the venue, and quickly found a scalper willing to make me a deal I could not refuse. My gut said don’t trust the adult male wearing a WNBA jersey but when he offered me a $60.00 ticket for $20.00 I decided to ignore my gut hunch. Good call, as I ended up with a great seat smack dab in the middle of the Bowl.
At about 8:45pm, the Los Angeles Philharmonic fired it up with a groove based instrumental that allowed various members to warm up by showing off their fancy licks in quick spurts. After an equally as quick, but just as energetic spoken introduction, the Queen was walked onto the stage with thunderous applause from the near capacity crowd. The musicians behind her segued into a fan favorite – “Higher and Higher” as the Queen made it to front of the stage. I have to be honest, I thought she sounded tired on the first song, but as the evening went on, her vocals greatly improved.
Over the next 30 minutes, the Queen played what I consider some of her biggest hits (my knowledge of Miss Franklin is very limited). “Freedom” is one of my favorite songs, but sadly the very inconsiderate lady next to me decided to yell at me during the first minute. I won’t waste your time with the story, but they soon left with the statement “this is what you get when you buy tickets from a scalper.” Who knew taking photos of the Queen while wearing an Iron Maiden shirt and drinking a 40 of Steel Reserve was such a bad thing?
Despite some audience members having none of it, ”Respect” got a huge ovation as many were as shocked as me that Franklin was already busting out the big guns. Perhaps on of her best known songs, it got the diverse crowd up on their feet dancing the night away. “Chain of Fools” was the exact same thing.
The Queen and I both took a break around the same time. She had carnival-esque dancers shake up and down the aisles of the front box seats as I emptied the liquid portion of my one man picnic. Returning with a new/tighter (as she later joked) outfit, the 67 year old returned and played songs that were more gospel-centric. I won’t lie, I don’t know any of the song titles, but it was all enjoyable.
Towards the end of the set, the Queen grew much more vocal with the audience. She mentioned how dreamy Obama is, and joked about getting Michelle out of the way. Then between songs she started to give kudos to some famous fans in the crowd. She mentioned how Jesse Jackson was the first serious black presidential candidate. She lusted over Billy Dean Williams and told a story about how her secretary was alone with the man, and didn’t take advantage. Perhaps the highlight for most was Halle Berry running across the stage paying homage to the Queen. The night of course was also without reference to the King of Pop. She mentioned how we had lost a genius, had an extended moment of silence in the stars honor.
The musical highlight of the shows tail end was 1985′s “Freeway of Love”. Not only did the Queen name a few of our beloved traffic clogged slabs of concrete, but the philharmonic grooved hard for a good 15+ minutes soul/funk/rock freak out. It jammed hard, just a good solid funky ride with lyrics that somehow flowed from Freeway to Jesus. It was a shame that Stella had left about ½ through the show, as she missed the closing number “The Children Are Our Future”. While she will never remember her first Friday evening of summer (or witness the much hated inauguration hat), for a few minutes, she got to witness a legend. The Queen of Soul – Aretha F’n Franklin. It does not take a rocket scientist to read the reviews on this site and see that the Queen is not usually part of my Friday night plans. But sometimes you truly have to pay a little respect to the legends, and I am thankful that I did just that.