You usually don’t go to the concerts of veteran artists for experimentation and spontaneity. Nope, you’re paying premium prices for the hits and favorites — or to catch that artist one final time before they retire. But apparently, anything goes at an Aretha Franklin show. Take her July 8 performance at the Essence Music Festival. While a good handful of the chestnuts that made her famous (“Think,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You)” — though no “Respect”) highlighted her 90-minute showcase, she and her orchestra band also filled the set list with covers, like Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher,” B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” as well as an extended gospel revue. Not exactly her essential play list.
But I’ll take that unpredictability over a greatest-hits show any day. For the former often means a more enthusiastic performance by someone tapping into their current muse; the latter, typically, an obligatory, by-the-numbers one that reveals a degree of fatigue with the classic material — and those are the worst. Anyway, the set list is beside the point. Franklin possesses one of, if not the greatest voice of the 20th century, and despite reports that her singing isn’t what it used to be — ahem, she’s 70 — it still shames her peers and most of those she’s influenced. Remember: This is the woman who at the 1998 Grammy Awards quickly filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and sang an aria in his tenor key, far outside her comfort zone. Can you imagine hearing that inside the Colosseum? I’d take that over “Chain of Fools” any day. Queen of Soul, give us whatever you’ve got. MIKE PREVATT
7:30 p.m., The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, www.ticketmaster.com, $49.50-$155.