Patti LaBelle

The 1997 version of the Hollywood Bowl's annual "The Great American Concert" wasn't a terribly auspicious one, marked by erratic material from the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and erratic performances by featured vocalist Patti LaBelle in her Bowl debut. But there were pockets of intriguing music if you searched hard enough --- and of course, the constant staccato of fireworks at the end were a lot of fun. One can't blame LaBelle --- whose new album "Flame" is doing rather well on the pop and R&B charts --- for complaining about the badly balanced sound in her appearance during the concert's first half. From the upper boxes, it was hard to make out the words over the drums, and the Bowl orchestra's backdrops could barely be heard at all. Nevertheless, she managed to project some of her rivetingly impassioned soul/gospel vocal range in her hit ballad "On My Own" and the pile-driving "New Attitude" before indulging in crowd-participation stunts on her best-known and still most striking vehicle, "Lady Marmalade."

With:
Performers: Patti LaBelle and band, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri. Reviewed Aug. 15, 1997.

Aided by more intelligible sound, LaBelle returned in the second half with a curiously inconsistent set in which she twice lost her place in the lyrics. Yet she did deliver a convincing performance (reading off a lyric sheet) of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” and as an encore, really nailed “Over the Rainbow.”

As for John Mauceri, conductor/raconteur, he was in prime sardonic form in his opening monologue about the absurdities of Southern California life — particularly traffic — but less sharp in his programming. There was a strange pocket history of American popular music that was enterprising enough to include a fascinating, creepy, brilliant bit of Ellingtonian tone painting — the second movement from the suite “Night Creature” — and schlocky enough to include two lumbering arrangements of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Madonna’s “Material Girl.”

After the intermission, Mauceri’s main contribution was a quartet of undistinguished, saccharine Carmen Dragon arrangements of various chestnuts of Americana, during which many in the audience grew restless waiting for LaBelle.

The Bowl Orchestra played decently enough, but to quote Shostakovich, the material put up resistance.

Patti LaBelle

Hollywood Bowl; 17,979 seats; $95 top

Production: Presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Cast: Performers: Patti LaBelle and band, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri. Reviewed Aug. 15, 1997.

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