The first few songs were a little touch and go there. She discernibly undersang the opening cover of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," leaving the high notes — hell, the semi-high notes, too — for her back-up singers. She buzzkilled "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" by asking the house to "turn the air off onstage, please." And then she full on warned the crowd she'd leave if that air wasn't turned off at the end of "Think." It was the only time all week that I or anyone in Las Vegas hoped someone would kill the A/C.
Someone did, mercifully, and despite our discomfort (anyone remember Depeche Mode turning the Pearl into a sauna back in 2009? This was almost as bad), Aretha Franklin stuck around to demolish the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with a flawless 21-piece backing band (which included members of our own Fat City Horns and some of her family members) and, most of all, her legendary pipes, christened the best in all of pop music by Rolling Stone. That was one of many accolades used to introduce Franklin to the stage on July 15, and after that Jackie Wilson warm-up, her voice soared on nearly every number that followed. She belted one out to the cheap seats — while pointing to them as well — during "Natural Woman," letting us know who helps empower her. (She thanked everyone within a five-mile radius throughout the show.) She cut loose duiring a lively and robust "The House That Jack Built." She hit the high notes — hell, the high-high notes, too — during the Quincy Jones soul ballad "Angel." And she literally kicked her heels off before nailing "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You," such a showstopper that after basking in a standing ovation, she left the stage for a brief intermission (taken over by what looked like the crew from the Masquerade Show in the Sky parade at the Rio, but is actually a Brazilian dance troupe called The Girls From Ipanema).
Upon her return and a couple of jokes, Franklin went into "Chain of Fools," but then — as she's done during several dates this year — mostly opted for covers (a tribute to Whitney Houston with "I Will Always Love You," "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" — both with Franklin on piano) and an extended gospel revue (contemporary number "It's About Time For a Miracle") before closing with "Respect," her signature anthem, with an additional call-and-response segment during the chorus to include the crowd. The performance wasn't long by most standards: 13 songs in 90 minutes, plus the intermission. You'd have been hard-pressed to find complaints, though, judging by the sweaty audience members racing to the air-conditioned casino, and those who casually exited, speaking only of the vocal prowess still blessing Franklin, even at 70. No telling if she'll make good on her promise to return, but no matter. I'm just pleased to have finally seen her, and in such good form.