The Divas of R&B

Greg and I have been joking lately that we really need to find a hobby that doesn’t involve food. It used to be that we were in need of a hobby that didn’t involve music, but music is on the back burner these days. So earlier this week, when we were flipping through the paper to discover that the Toronto Jazz festival was adding a last minute “Divas of R&B” show to replace some blues singer, we ran around the apartment going, “Oh my god! Order the tickets! Order the tickets!!” Because the last time we saw Ronnie Spector in 2003, she blew us away. And this time she’d be on a bill with Darlene Love and Merry Clayton (one of the Raelettes, and who has also worked with the Rolling Stones.)

Original opening act John Hammond, a well-known blues performer stayed on the bill, and was very impressive, performing a tribute to recently passed Bo Diddley. I don’t know a lot about blues music, but I do know that harmonicas make my face squish up like I’ve been eating fresh limes.

The ladies, who are not touring – this was a one-off event – performed with a local band called The Lincolns. I would have enjoyed the Lincolns more if I had known they were to be the focus of the evening. Turns out that each of the ladies performed only three songs, and separately at that. We were all expecting that they’d likely perform together, doing backup for each other’s songs.

Ronnie Spector performed first, and seemed a bit under the weather, sitting between songs and remarking at a couple of points that she was tired. This was a bit disappointing, since when we had seen her Christmas show in 2003 she was a dynamo, complete with costume changes. Her voice remains resonant and strong, however, and she managed to belt out three hits, including the iconic “Be My Baby”, before leaving the stage.

Darlene Love was a bit of a firecracker, and the crowd started warming up. Like a good Toronto audience, we sat steadfastly in our seats, something that confounds most performers who have never been here before. We grooved with Love and the back-up singers to “Da Doo Ron Ron”, but the crowd only got to its feet to give her a standing ovation as she left the stage.

Merry Clayton let us sit for the first two songs but refused to sing “Gimme Shelter” until we got to our feet. To reward us for our efforts, she brought the house down, continuing to sing “shelter!!!” well past her exit from the festival tent.

Overall, I was hoping for less backing band (mind you they were great) and more Ronnie Spector, but it was still a fun night, and a great show. These ladies still having amazing voices and remain consummate performers.