With due respect to Miss Patti - because I know she could hunt me down and knock some sense into me - I'll go on record and say she underestimates her performance on "Live in Washington, D.C.," a new concert album that was previously unreleased. To hear LaBelle tell it to Newsday's Glenn Gamboa, her voice that night in 1982 "wasn't bad."
"Wasn't bad"? Please. Keep that in mind when she rips into "The Spirit's in It," ascending glorious heights like someone has just pummeled one of those carnival games, rings the bell, and wins a prize. She chews scenery here, reminding you just how influential she's been on singers like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera.
LaBelle was touring behind her latest album at the time, "The Spirit's in It," which explains the pervasive synthesizers and sax solos. The instrumentation is dated now, but "Live in Washington, D.C." captures LaBelle in an unusually loose and timeless performance. If there were a set list taped to the stage floor at Constitution Hall, it sure doesn't sound like it.
If anything, she takes her sweet time finding new ways to interpret the hits: a cover of "If You Don't Know Me by Now" simmers just past the seven-minute mark, "Lady Marmalade" is funkier than the original, and she unleashes a torrent of high notes on "Over the Rainbow."
Best of all, LaBelle was feeling gregarious that particular night: "Anything you want me to sing, just ask me, baby, and I'll do that for you. That's what I came here for," she tells the cheering crowd and then, as part of "Patti's Welcome," trills the words "I'm in love" so many times, you can't help but feel the same.