Lionel Richie made a killing in the 1980s with a string of piano ballads that sold a million copies and inspired a million prom-night slow dances.
So it’s easy to forget how funky the guy could be.
Richie played all of those ballads Saturday night at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville — “Penny Lover,” “Truly,” “You Are.” But he also spent a good deal of his time calling back to his days with the Commodores, one of the finest funk bands of the ’70s. “Brick House” and “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” steamed up a venue already so warm that Richie called it “the nastiest show I’ve ever played.” He threw so many towels into the crowd that he asked his assistant to cut them into smaller pieces.
He’s also got an astonishing songbook to work from. When a guy walks onstage and breaks into “Easy,” you’d think there would be no place to go but downhill from there. But Richie has a catalog deep enough to play 19 songs with no throwaways in the setlist.
Nearly half of his songs were from his Commodores days (including an impressive run through “Three Times a Lady,” “Sail On,” “Fancy Dancer” and “Sweet Love”), but Richie didn’t forget about the mid-‘80s monster hits – “Running With the Night,” “Stuck on You,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Say You, Say Me.”
The fireworks from the Jumbo Shrimp game across the parking lot started during the tender opening notes of “Hello,” but reached a big finale right as the song did, bringing a big smile to Richie’s face.
Of course he couldn’t leave out his two signature songs from the ‘80s: “Endless Love” (with the ladies in the audience filling in the Diana Ross parts) and “We Are the World” (with Richie filling in all the non-Richie parts).
Richie is in the middle of a big comeback, with a live album/DVD about to be released and a tour taking him on the road all summer. It’s a comeback that’s long overdue for a guy who the songs to keep you going, well, all night long.