Lionel Richie brings all the hits and the Californian sunshine to a memorable evening at Franklin's Gardens
My major gripe with Northampton over the past few years has been the lack of major acts to play the town (Elton John was the last established artist to play the town and that was nearly 7 years ago!) as well as all the underused venues that could hold such large events. So you can imagine my delight to see our large Rugby stadium Franklin's Gardens being utilised by Lionel Richie for the evening, a man who's used to playing the likes of Las Vegas and Glastonbury, now playing our small town, and despite multiple storm warnings, Richie brought all the hits and the Californian sunshine with him.
There’s just something about a Lionel Richie concert that gives you such a heartwarming feeling. He’s naturally charismatic and a constant professional. Making every person in the audience, no matter the age, feel like they’re the most important person in the crowd. Early on he acknowledges he’s never been to Northampton, but from that smile, you’d think he’d been here his entire life. It certainly helps when you can start a concert with the Commodores classic ‘Easy’, a quick way to get everyone on their feet smiling and singing along.
When Richie speaks of bringing ‘all the hits’ he’s definitely not exaggerating. There’s not a single lull in the evening, whether it be everyone dancing along during ‘Running With The Night’ or singing along to classic ballads ‘Stuck On You’ and ‘Three Times A Lady’. It must also be said in a time where ageing superstars of the last few decades are either passing away or fading away rather ungracefully on stage, Richie is a major exception, despite turning 70 next year he still moves and sings like the man who burst onto the scene with The Commodores back in the 1970’s. Not even a light “frog in his throat” can stop him hitting those pitch-perfect notes.
Richie hasn’t just brought the hits with him though, he’s also got an incredible backing band of talented musicians to play alongside him. This is a truly authentic live experience, not a backing track in sight. It’s not just those luxurious vocals Richie's songs are known for but also some absolutely stellar instrumentals and song production. These are wondrously recreated on stage tonight, whether it be the electrifying guitar solo during ‘Easy’ or the saxophonist stealing the show during an epic ‘Brick House/Fire’ medley. He’s also brought out all the stops with a spectacular large stage and light set up, with screens that could rival The Stones recent tour. This must have been at some considerable expense but it does give the stadium a much-needed festival vibe to it.
Richie is a humble man and is keen to pay homage to what’s brought him to this position this evening. This is showcased through a highlight reel during ‘Sail On’ in which the Glastonbury pictures got a very audible cheer, a touching reference to the moment which saw Richie be relaunched into the hearts of the nation back in 2016. Perhaps the most reflective and emotional moment, however, came when he paid tribute to the music legends we’ve lost over the past few years. There was even a noticeable “wow” and head shake by Richie at the mention of George Michael and Prince’s name.
Richie among everything though is a showman, perhaps the greatest. Everything he does is to appeal to the audience and create a memorable evening. Sometimes this is through a selection of costume changes, I mean who doesn’t like to see Lionel Richie wearing a jacket with his head emblazoned on his back or a sequin tribute to the lyrics of ‘All Night Long’.
Most of all though he knows how to really work for a crowd and over the past few years his setlist has been meticulously refined to reflect that. This means we’re treated to the most crowd-pleasing finale you could imagine. An already excited crowd were elevated to another level by just the first few notes of the instantly recognisable ‘Hello’, Richie needn’t have bothered to utter a word for the rest of the evening.
“If you’re not gonna be dancing on the floor, you’ll be dancing on the ceiling” shouted an enthusiastic Richie and the crowd duly obliged. Despite being an all seated venue, I couldn’t spot a single person who wasn’t invigorated to stand on their feet, all dancing along to a disco-styled finish to the evening. ‘All Night Long’ seemed to aptly go on for all night, as neither Richie nor the crowd wanted their groove to disappear. When he did sadly depart into the night though he left 17,000 people of all ages singing and dancing his hits all the way home.
Running With The Night
Stuck On You
Brick House / Fire
Three Times A Lady
Fancy Dancer / Lady (You Bring Me Up)
You’re My Destiny
Say You, Say Me
Dancing On The Ceiling
We Are The World
All Night Long