Where is the coolest place to celebrate one’s 80th birthday? How about on stage at City Winery NYC before a crowded room of devoted friends and fans? That is where Darlene Love entered her octogenarian years.
As the lights dimmed, Steve Van Zandt came on stage and relayed to the audience that he and Bruce Springsteen met Love in California in the 1980s. They persuaded her to relocate to New York City with the promise that they would help her launch a solo career. Indeed, Van Zandt arranged live gigs for her, which led to her co-starring role in Broadway’s Leader of the Pack, four Lethal Weapon movies, the 20 Feet from Stardom documentary, and other opportunities. Van Zandt continues to produce her recordings and pressed her most recent album, 2015’s Introducing Darlene Love, on his record label, Wicked Cool Records.
Backed by her 11-piece band, Love took her long-deserved place in the center stage. Age being no barrier, she performed in strong voice and bountiful energy. She sang songs from her most recent catalogue — the Springsteen song sounded like a Springsteen song, the Elvis Costello song sounded like a Darlene Love song — and shared anecdotes from her journey. Midway through her set, she gave the audience what it wanted most, a medley of her classic hits, “He’s a Rebel”, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” and “Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home.”
Birthdays should always have surprises, and one awaited Love. She joined the audience in watching for the first time a compilation video with birthday greetings from Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Dionne Warwick, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler and members of Love’s family. Love came back to sing covers of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and the Righteous Brothers’ “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” but these covers, though performed well, could not garner the audience excitement from the medley and the video. Love rallied the audience again for her closer, a rousing cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” which she sang in Leader of the Pack, and invited her co-star, Annie Golden, onstage as a background singer.
Love is well remembered for the Christmas songs she sang in the early 1960s, and so usually tours in December. This mid-year birthday celebration was devoid of Christmas songs. There was plenty of cheer anyway, as the show succeeded in showcasing Love’s fine talent as a vocalist of both past and present glory, worthy of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. While steeped deep in nostalgia, Love’s show was an homage to her timeless relevance. At 80, she is still a vocal powerhouse.