Last Sunday, “Undisputed Queen of Soul” (as her hypeman calls her, and he's correct) Aretha Franklin brought her soul and gospel show to a sold-out Microsoft Theater in Downtown LA. The 2015 Aretha is in fantastic physical and vocal shape and is eager to “bring church” to her fans and thank the Lord for her deliverance. It was a moving, unforgettable show that started with a shot of pure adrenaline (a cover of Jackie Wilson's “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”), followed by a run through her undeniable '60s soul catalogue (“Natural Woman,” “Don't Play that Song,” “Ain't No Way,” “Think” and “Chain of Fools”—top that as an opener suite). Legendary orchestral soul arranger H. B. Barnum conducted the Aretha Franklin Orchestra in musical settings that went from the tastefully understated (when Aretha sat at her beloved piano) to a full-tilt, big-band rollick.
After a gospel singalong intermission, Aretha returned to testify: a gospel set (aided by The Williams Brothers' Melvin Williams) was peppered with heartfelt sermons of thanksgiving for her 2010 recovery. After church, the Queen sat at the piano to perform several soulful ballads about love and loss “for those over 21,” and told the audience that those songs were the ones that resonated with her right now. (She also took time, as is customary in Los Angeles, to introduce the several celebrities in attendance, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, Angela Bassett and the cast of Tyler Perry's TV show “The Haves and Have Nots,” Aretha's current favorite, about which she enthused onstage like a fangirl). After the ballads (and a sublime “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” reimagined as the powerhouse, Aretha-ready soul-gospel number that Paul Simon probably dreamed of while writing it), it was time for a more energetic finale, with a rambunctious, loose cover of “I Will Survive,” '80s hit (and Aretha Los Angeles favorite) “Freeway of Love,” and, for the encore, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” All photos by Gustavo Turner.