There were minimal props to Amel Larrieux’s show on Friday evening at the Howard Theatre. Mood lighting. Live band. And of course the singer: Wild-haired, a frizzy blow out parted down the middle. Amel stepped onto the stage in MC Hammer-baggy pants with high-heeled pumps swagging with a bounce showing off her chiseled arms.
The comradeship between the singer and band was palpable. Between sets she’d lean in to one of the band members and do a playful call and response that caused the concert hall to crack in applause. In one song, Amel turns to her daughter, who was one of the back up singers, to lead the song for old time’s sake.
Like a virtuoso jazz vocalist, many songs were stretched out for several minutes building into a crescendo showing the artist’s range and control of her airy voice.
I first discovered Amel Larrieux almost twenty years ago as the lead singer of the 90’s group, Groove Theory. Tell me was their breakout hit that held the attention of an entire generation. What was that sound–R&B? Jazz? Hip Hop? The clash of beats over soulful ballads were hip, a throwback to our parents cassette tapes and albums.
Throughout the evening, she took requests from the audience. Many of us roared, “Tell Me” with which she closed out the show.
In Amel Larrieux we have a musician who’s in full bloom of her craft. A rarity in today’s business where fads too often dictate the direction of many talented artists (think of the disappointment that is Toni Braxton.) I was particularly struck by the Toni Morrison shout-out she gave making reference to the point that both artists are interested in the subject of love.
Without a doubt she’s not your run-of-the-mill recording artist, Amel thanked the audience profusely for allowing her to write songs and make music. The singer-songwriter crooned just before closing her show, “If it weren’t for you, I don’t know what I’d do.”