Concert Review: Aretha Franklin, Roy Thompson Hall, November 6


Toronto – Last night the Queen of Soul herself paid a visit to Toronto in order to shower us with her award-winning voice and musical legacy. She was accompanied by a 21-piece band that was equally capable of providing some sweet soul music, as well as more than handful of slow ballads. Although the show was well-received by her die hard fans, the crowd was clamouring for more of what they know: upbeat soul hits.

It’s not always easy being a well-known gigging musician that has a slew of hits under their belt. One the one hand, it’s the very popularity of those hits that pays the bills. It’s understandable that the crowd wants to hear those songs when they go to see the musician perform live. On the other hand, the musician can feel like a one trick pony: “Hey, play that song you play!” can sometimes sound like, “Dance for me, monkey!” It’s understandable that some performers shy away from playing their biggest hits because their sick and tired of having to.

That certainly seems to be the case with Aretha. Granted, she does have a large repertoire to draw upon in a concert setting. But she also has some instantly recognizable hits that everyone wants her to play. Two songs that were remarkably absent from last night’s lineup was Respect and (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman. However, Aretha is the perenial template for the modern day diva, so I suppose we can’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to.

Thankfully, she did play Think, which definitely had the crowd on their feet. Unfortunately for the crowd, her upbeat dance-friendly songs were mixed in equal measure with long slow ballads. Don’t get me wrong, the ballads were beautiful. Aretha has got pipes, there’s no question about that. However, I got the impression that much of the crowd came to dance and listen to  some nostalgic soul from one of the pioneers. Those ballads kept taking the wind out of their dancing sails at regularly scheduled intervals.

One interesting and underwhelming part of the concert was the very starting. The band begun by playing small abbreviated forms of many of Aretha’s hits prior to the Queen herself coming out. It struck me as kitschy and jarring. “Just in case you don’t know what we’re about to do, here are the Coles notes”. I’ve never seen a band do this before, and the result was a little lowest common denominator. Although the band was good, there is still some work to be done to in re-creating the magic of a really tight 70’s soul band. Kudos to the pianist as an outstanding musician that is clearly steeped in that tradition.

As a soul junkie, I’m definitely happy that I have now had the opportunity to hear Aretha Franklin live. However, combine ticket prices hovering between $80-170 with a marked absence of some classic hits, and it’s probably not something I’d want to do again anytime soon.

Posted on by Mark in Concerts