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Loved-up on Lionel

2008-11-24 09:08
He's still wearing his jacket, but it won't be too many songs before it's off and he's waving it before the shrieking crowd who dream he'll throw it out there and they'll be the one to catch it. All 15 000 concert seats at Sahara Park are sold. But nobody's sitting in them - everyone's on their feet.

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Lionel: live in CT

Lionel has us all at "Hello."

It's taken Mr Richie decades to finally get to South Africa - enough time to write and perfect a set that spans many moods, decades, love affairs and styles. Lionel's just as comfortable with funky Commodores classics as with his less funky, "shag me til we bust this car's shocks one-time baby" shotgun-wedding classics. As he introduces "Endless Love", All the Lovely Ladies in the House reward him with screams and sing along, their hands waving softly in the air.
And as Lionel glides across the stage, supercool, his band travels with him, adding their vitality to his seemingly endless supply. Yes, like all the best Casanovas, Lionel understands the importance of good props.

His band are accomplished musicians, sure, but they're also not hard on the eye. Guitarist Ben Mauro flings his blond curls around, straining at his guitar strings, his eyes on the sky. He smiles for the camera, and then some, while Lionel just sits at the piano, watching him work, grinning and nodding, stroking those same old keys, the first few buttons of his shirt undone. "Yes", he seems to say. "I see exactly what I'm doing."

Lionel Richie isn't just good at schmaltz. No - damn - he owns schmaltz. What's the bet that at any moment, like right now, someone, somewhere, is making out to a Lionel Richie number?

By the last song, a few tannies have broken from their rows and onto the grass break between the expensive seats and the stage, and security guards line up to keep these ladies from leaping - in high-heels and shiny twin sets - up onto the stage to claim their star.

Afterwards, as we walk to our cars, groups of fans sing his songs, their arms around each other. The traffic queues are long, but the cars are full of music. Old couples walk hand in hand on their way home - or out to dance again. The night's still young.

- Jean Barker

"If you didn't come here to party all night, you've come to the wrong place!" Lionel tells the crowd, who're screaming to release all the intricate frustrations of the decades they've waited to see him up there, loving them, loving him.

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