You probably heard these songs in the womb. There's a good chance that you or your sister were conceived during “Hello,” or “Three Times a Lady.” We're born knowing Lionel Richie's hits. They exist in our collective reality like birds, or house flies, so ubiquitous that they're not questioned, are merely a fact of life. When you go to the grocery store, there he is. Getting Botoxed? Lionel's right with you on the Muzak, urging you to fiesta forever.
Last night Richie played a MySpace secret show at the El Rey, and it served as a lesson for the jaded, the hip, the too-cool-to-dance-(on-the-ceiling), that a little bit of partying and dancing to some classic funk and funk-lite songs is good for the soul, and that you look like a dork standing motionless on the dance floor while Lionel Richie plays his hits.
“Plenty of room on the floor,” texted a friend last night as West Coast Sound walked in. We were standing in the back near the soundboard, and Lionel was on his third song: “Easy.” Now, entering a relatively uncrowded El Rey while a classic American pop song is being played by its writer and his band is a special experience, especially if you're a fan of 80s soft rock. Lionel Richie usually plays for thousands, not hundreds, and hearing him sing, “That's why I'm easy, I'm easy like Sunday morning,” live, absent the grocery store check-out line or Botox injection environment, totally changes the song. You start to understand why they work so well as soundtracks-of-our-lives: the melodies are rich, the lyrics address emotions that we can all understand, and we can sing along.
But they're not all soft. Recall that Richie got his start not in the 80s but in the 70s, and did it with the Commodores on the Motown label. So Our Man Lionel mixed in the funk jamz that we've all clumsily danced to at weddings — specifically, “Brick House” and “Fire.” He even did a little version of Laid Back's electro disco classic, “White Horse” (!). Richie still has the funk, and dressed in his black velvet shirt and silk pants, a diamond cross hanging around his neck, the singer, who turns 60 on June 20, moved along with us, very very happy to be playing a small room with a bunch of devotees. He called “Dancing on the Ceiling” his “four minute workout,” and recommended that we join along.
We did. It was Lionel Richie, after all. Right up there on stage. In front of the piano. Singing his ballads. Smiling. Talking to us like he knew us. Comfortable. Honest. Funky, Dancing. We were running with the night. Playing in the shadows. Just you and I. Till the morning light. (Well, until 9:30 p.m., when the show ended.)