On Saturday, February 11, 2017, Darlene Love made her annual Valentine’s Day appearance at Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC) in Englewood, NJ. Famous as a back-up singer on such monster hits as “Be My Baby” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” Love returned to the famous North Jersey venue in the spotlight as a lead vocalist to give a powerhouse performance of music spanning her decades-long career, looking and sounding incredible at the age of 75!
With a powerful eight-piece band and three mega-talented backup singers behind her, Ms. Love hits the stage running, opening the show with a composition by New Jersey’s own Stevie Van Zandt. Entitled “Among the Believers,” the song comes from Love’s first-ever solo album — one she recorded in 2015 at the age of 73 — ironically entitled Introducing Darlene Love.
Looking dazzling in white, Ms. Love stuns the crowd with her vocal prowess on this rockin’ number and on additional tunes from Introducing Darlene Love including an Elvis Costello retro-sounding rocker, “Forbidden Nights.”
“Good evening, and thank you for coming!” Love tells the excited crowd, revealing how happy she is to be back at BergenPAC this Valentine’s Day weekend “for a third consecutive year.”
Taking the audience back in time, Love performs “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” a 1962 Top 20 hit credited to The Crystals, but a song which originally featured Love’s lead vocal on the recording. Her voice soaring, and her back-up singers “sha-la-la”-ing, Love and company sing and play from the heart, moving to the simple steady groove of the song while audience members nod along and smile.
“We all sound pretty good,” exclaims Love, adding, “and that song is over 50 years old!”
Moving back to the present, Love performs another song by Elvis Costello from Introducing Darlene Love — a duet she originally recorded with The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley. Entitled “Still Too Soon to Know,” Medley’s part is sung by Love’s talented guitarist and musical director, Marc Ribler. With the band’s expert accompaniment backing them up, Love and Ribler make this power ballad their own, singing, “It’s still too soon to know/Will you stay or will you go?”
“I’ve been blessed to have great writers,” Love tells the audience, going on to note that her next song was written by rockers Joan Jett and Desmond Child. At this point, she launches into a powerful wall-of-sound version of “Little Liar” featuring high energy, a screaming guitar solo courtesy of Marc Ribler, and wailing vocals from Love and her back-up singers which build ever higher and higher both in terms of harmonic changes and dynamics.
Moving on to yet another electric rocker from Introducing Darlene Love — Michael Des Barres’ & Paul Ill’s awesome “Painkiller” — Love shares the spotlight with her excellent back-up vocalists, Milton Vann, Sheherazade Holman, and Ula Hedwig, who each take a turn belting out the lead.
“I’m so glad I get up every morning at 4 am and take a kickboxing class so I can sing ‘Painkiller,’” jokes Love. “It’s real rock and roll — and that’s what I am — a rock and roll singer.”
Going on to inquire if there are any “rebels in the house,” Love ends her first set with a rip-roaring version of The Crystals’ 1962 #1 hit, “He’s a Rebel,” bringing the enthusiastic BergenPAC crowd to its feet.
When the second set opens, Love’s back-up trio of Milton Vann, Sheherazade Holman, and Ula Hedwig take the stage again to perform a rollicking rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is.”
Then, Milton Vann sings his heart out on a show-stopping version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” energizing the audience with his talent. By the end of the song, he is rewarded with a well-deserved standing ovation from the cheering crowd.
Photos by Love Imagery
As the audience continues to applaud, Love makes her way out onto the stage — now looking magnifient in red — exclaiming, “When you hear talent like that, you gotta share it!”
Following an up-tempo version of the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil tune, “Sweet Freedom,” Love looks for couples in the audience who’ve been married 30, 40, or even 50 years, and provides a Valentine’s bouquet of flowers to one couple — Lenore and George — currently celebrating 53 years of wedded bliss. Love also invites veterans in the crowd to come forward and accept a gift of a rose or a home-made Valentine as thanks for their service and sacrifice to our country.
Moving on to another Crystals’ hit, “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” Darlene croons to all of the lovers in the crowd as couples throughout the auditorium slow dance in the aisles.
After belting out her 1963 hit, “Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home,” Love segues into the Crystals’ Top 5 smash from the same year, “Da Doo Ron Ron,” turning back the clock for many in the audience and taking them back in time to the simpler days of their youth.
Again featuring her back-up singers, Love, her vocal trio, and the band perform an electrifying version of Walter Hawkins’ “Marvelous,” a soul-rousing anthem of hope which brings the entire BergenPAC audience clamoring to its feet.
Revealing to the audience that “four years ago” she “suffered a heart attack,” Love talks about how lucky she is to “get to keep singing.” Here, she launches into the climax of the evening, Love’s sublime rendition of a song which was originally promised to her by writer/producer Phil Spector, but ended up being recorded by Tina Turner, “River Deep — Mountain High.”
Closing the show with a performance for the ages, electrifying the congregration with her prodigious talent, Love proves to the world that this song is truly hers! In response, the crowd jumps to its feet — dancing, clapping, and singing — to show Darlene they truly love her “river deep, mountain high.”
After wishing the cheering crowd a fond farewell, Love makes her way off the stage and the audience members file out of the auditorium, several stopping to chat with us about the performance they’ve just experienced.
Lenore from Englewood — who with her husband, George, received Love’s Valentine’s bouquet of flowers— says she and her husband were “here last year” at BergenPAC when Love put on what she calls, “some show,” and as a result, they decided to come back again tonight. Acknowledging how much she “enjoyed the whole thing” — particularly how Love “moved around the stage” — Lenore tells us she is particularly impressed with the energy of Love’s performances because, as she reveals, “I’m the same age as Darlene!”
Geri from Rutherford says she’s been a fan of Darlene’s “since I was a kid,” listening to songs including “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “He’s a Rebel,” and — a tune Love did not perform this evening — the 1963 holiday classic, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Calling tonight’s show “fabulous,” Geri goes on to say that, in her opinion, “Darlene just owns these songs.”
Geri’s husband, Bob, a musician “in a classic rock band,” echoes his wife’s thoughts, telling us he loved the show too, saying the “vocals were great” and referring to Darlene’s band as “just fabulous.”
Lastly, we meet John from Flushing, NY, who also thought the concert was “incredible,” going on to qualify his statement by asking us: “Didn’t you hear that lady sing?”
When we acknowledge we certainly did, John goes on to echo the thoughts, perhaps, of many more of Love’s admirers in the crowd when he enthusiastically exclaims, “Good thing! She’s one of the top five singers in the world!”
For more information on Darlene Love including her Introducing Darlene Love album, her live concert schedule, and more, please go to darleneloveworld.com. To learn more about upcoming performances at Bergen PAC — including Dionne Warwick on March 3, The Temptations and The Four Tops on March 23, and The Spinners and Little Anthony & The Imperials on April 6 — please go to bergenpac.org.
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