by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love delivered a powerhouse performance at Cranston’s Park Theatre Friday night, featuring her early rock and roll classics (“don’t call them ‘oldies,’ Love said) and Christmas songs from the legendary Phil Spector “A Christmas Gift for You” album.
Love and her 11 piece band opened inauspiciously with a tepid, “smooth Jazz” version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which suffered from both the arrangement and a poor front of house mix, but things were turned around quickly with the classic Spector arrangement of “A Marshmallow World,” with much improved sound.
The 75-year-old Love, whose voice sounds the same as it did 50 years ago, continued with the classic “Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home,” which featured an impressive a-capella intro from Love and her 3 background singers. She immediately followed that with “Da Doo Run Run,” which featured the distinctive baritone sax solo played by former Rolling Stones sideman Crispin Cioe.
Love dedicated “Today I Met The Boy I’m Going to Marry” to her husband of 32 years and to the married couples in the mostly older crowd.
Before featuring songs from her latest album, “Introducing Darlene Love,” she spoke of her relationship with long time E-Street Band member Little Steven Van Zandt, and told the story about how Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen got her back into music after leaving the business unhappily due to restrictive contracts and unstable behavior from her producer Phil Spector. The band performed Van Zandt’s “Among The Believers,” originally released on his 1983 LP “Voice of America” and covered by Love on her new album.
This was followed by another new song, penned by Elvis Costello. “Forbidden Nights” had the classic Spector arrangements that fit Love’s voice so well.
Closing out the first set was the song Van Zandt wrote for Love to perform in the 1992 Christmas film “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” “All Alone on Christmas.”
After a 15 minute break, the backing band took to the stage without love for a pleasant rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” led by the backup singers. Vocalist Milton Van took the lead on an impressive “Oh Holy Night,” where he showed off his vocal prowess.
Love returned to the stage for a faithful rendition of “White Christmas” from the Spector album, as well as a performance of “Winter Wonderland,” which she noted she had performed at the White House for President Bill Clinton.
Love told the audience that she held no grudges against Spector and that in fact she had a great career from performing these songs, and “look where I am, and look where he is.” (Spector is serving a prison term of 19 years to life for the murder of a woman in his home in 2003.) She then performed a note-perfect version of “He’s a Rebel,” sounding exactly like she did on the original 1962 #1 hit.
An impressive run through of the gospel “Marvelous” followed, along with a duet with Milton Van on “Listen to the Bells,” originally a duet between Love and Luther Vandross.
The grand finale of the show was, of course, her classic song from Spector’s Christmas album “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which she had performed for years on David Letterman’s Late Show up until his retirement in 2015 (Love’s last appearance was in December 2014.)
Love and her band were impressive, but somewhat hindered by a poor sound mix for much of the show, leaving guitarist/music director Mark Ribley’s guitar inaudible at times, but the sheer power of Love’s voice overcame these small issues and delivered a solid, impressive show.