Gig review: Lionel Richie at Leeds First Direct Arena

Lionel Richie at Leeds First Direct Arena. Picture by Anthony Longstaff.
Lionel Richie at Leeds First Direct Arena. Picture by Anthony Longstaff.
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You would think that after nearly 40 years in music, Lionel Richie might have lost a bit of enthusiasm or the will to please.

One thing’s for sure, the enthusiasm for the Motown legend’s soppy, soulful and catchy ballads certainly hasn’t waned in Leeds. More than 10,000 fans packed an expectant Leeds First Direct Arena last night.

Promising ‘All the Hits, All Night Long’, a greatest hits medley of the 65-year-old’s immense back catalogue would surely be a winner in Leeds – if only the great man is able to muster some of his trademark energy.

A wall of sound erupted when the sprightly star bounced on to the stage to his upbeat noughties track ‘All Around the World’ with arms aloft and that infectious widemouthed grin. The soulman had arrived.

Instantly any suggestion that Richie was going to sail through his Leeds set without much effort was put to bed. Dressed all in black with a denim blazer, a flash watch and a couple of gleaming necklaces, Lionel was in town to party.

A motley crew of ultra enthusiastic bandmates chipped in with impromptu guitar solos, earthy bass lines and in-your-face sax, with Richie the pivot point on stage.

Soon enough that comfortable fireplace of piano chords at the start of ‘Easy’ sounded out and Richie reminded us of his smooth, soulful tone, but he stopped short of booming out to the top of his range.

The saxophone player, who oddly wore a top hat, knee pads and cape to start, was forced to sit aside when the stripped back ‘Ballerina Girl’ gave the now mellowed crowd a true taste of Richie’s impressive voice.

Banter with a man in the audience sporting a Lionel-esque 80s afro, stories of how his father inspired him to write classics like ‘Three Times a Lady’ and a repeated joke about how his drink was too strong endeared the American star to a warm Leeds crowd. He was on top form and extremely likeable throughout – refreshing really for a man who’s been at the top for decades.

He expertly changed the tempo time and time again. For an arena bedecked with seats, barely anyone was seated for the majority of proceedings.

Tracks like Commodores classic ‘Brick House’, ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ ‘You Are My Destiny’ and ‘Running With the Night’ brought the house down, Richie patrolling the stage and conducting the crowd like a true professional.

And there was no let up. The hit-after-hit two-hour show was energetic and nonstop, the main man only leaving the stage to change his sweat-drenched blazer twice.

A classic rendition of probably his most famous song ‘Hello’ was a sure-fire hit with the crowd. A mass sing-along with the lights of a thousand mobile phones shining towards the stage was a pleasure to witness.

Fittingly, ‘All Night Long’ rang out to rapturous applause and likeable Lionel soon finished his set with an encore of ‘We Are the World’ – a track he wrote with Michael Jackson 30 years ago this month.

A true legend of music, Lionel Richie’s still got it. He repeatedly thanked the crowd for sticking with him through the years, and on that showing it’s easy to see why.