The word “subdued” and Patti Labelle don’t usually belong in the same sentence.
But the word aptly describes the song bird’s demeanor during her performance at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood on Thursday, Oct. 8. The renowned shoe lover began in a pair of heels, but quickly switched to flats, compliments of a sprained ankle from a show a few days earlier.
While her injury seemed to be the most obvious culprit, an unspoken sadness also seemed to pervade the otherwise jovial singer. Labelle’s entire persona seemed off kilter, from the way she moved to the way she interacted with her adoring fans.
Still loving and lovable, Labelle displayed an energy level that was conspicuously lower than in previous performances. Vocally, the visibly fatigued Labelle packed an occasionally pitchy punch, minus her trademark antics.
What she may have lacked vocally, her three background singers more than made up for. Labelle graciously shared the stage with the trio, allowing each to showcase their singing prowess individually.
Backed by an excellent six-piece band, Labelle peppered the show with humor, but also with melancholy discussion about her pained family life. Both her parents are deceased, as well as her brother and three sisters, all of whom died of cancer before they turned 44.
“I’m 65 and I’m happy,” said Labelle, who also shared with the audience that she’s been diabetic for the past 14 years, a bittersweet milestone.
The singer said her late mother had her legs amputated due to the disease.
“I pray that I don’t go that way,” she said.
On a lighter note, before beginning the song, “Love, Need and Want You,” which was sampled by former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland and rapper Nelly, Labelle teased, “Don’t get it twisted, I did it first.”
She flipped the joke when she performed “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” an old Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes classic. Although she sang it for the first time 26 years ago in D.C.’s Constitution Hall, Labelle said, “don’t get it twisted,” [The Blue Notes] did it first.
The consummate performer, Labelle gave it her best shot. She alternated between her heels and flats, pumping up her oomph slightly on some songs to have it falter on others. In one of the show’s more energetic moments, Labelle invited three (four joined her) men from the audience to sing the timeless “Lady Marmalade,” the 1974 song made famous by the girl group Labelle, which, in addition to its namesake, also included Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash.
The group spent 15 years together before splitting up in 1976 to pursue solo careers. They reunited last year to record the CD, “Back to Now,” which debuted at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 and at No. 9 on the magazine’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart.
Before wrapping up her Hard Rock performance, the two-time Grammy winner memorialized some of her fallen comrades: Luther Vandross, Gerald Levert, Isaac Hayes and Luciano Pavarotti, by singing the gospel song, “Walk around Heaven.’’
She dug deep to belt out “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” before closing the roughly 70-minute show.
Loving her unconditionally with a rousing standing ovation, the audience lured a limping Labelle back on stage for an encore. Summing up the solemn performance, Labelle finished the show by singing “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Photo: Patti LaBelle