Apollo Theater, New York
New York's Apollo Theater was the perfect setting for a stop on Billboard Century Award honoree Annie Lennox's first solo tour. Bare, the singer's forthcoming J Records album, delves deeper into the bNew York's Apollo Theater was the perfect setting for a stop on Billboard Century Award honoree Annie Lennox's first solo tour. Bare, the singer's forthcoming J Records album, delves deeper into the blue-eyed soul she hinted at on her previous two solo albums, and the mix of music representing her career was right at home in the storied R&B venue. "I think that's pretty cool," a beaming Lennox said in acknowledging that she was standing on the floorboards of the legendary Apollo. "I love being here."
Well-known as half of the Eurythmics, Lennox is undeniably cool, a luminous presence onstage. Riveting vocals aside, her stature is further enhanced on this rare solo outing by simple but visually stunning lighting changes and the tasteful use of video projections on an enormous backdrop.
But it's her strong, compelling vocals and emotional investment in a song's performance that makes Lennox such an incredible draw. With a crack band and a trio of soulful backup singers, Lennox exploded with "Money Can't Buy It" from her 1992 Arista solo debut, Diva. Like much of the show to follow, the song grooved with passionate R&B flavor, courtesy of the well-rehearsed rhythmic five-piece behind her.
Only four songs from Bare were unveiled for the willing audience—the first, "1000 Beautiful Things," coming four songs into the show. With a deceiving Spanish guitar intro, the gripping "Pavement Cracks" and the beautiful "Wonderful" are hopeful messages among much of the album's darker emotional imagery. That side of the set was only briefly exposed through the powerful "Bitter Pill," which came near the end of the main set.
The rest of the show delighted, often bringing the audience to its feet in appreciation for faves from Diva ("Little Bird," "Walking on Broken Glass") and 1995's Medusa ("No More I Love Yous," Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down"), and Eurythmics hits ("Who's That Girl?" and "Here Comes the Rain").
A gracious performer, during the rave-up "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," Lennox deferred to the formidable voices of backup singers Carol Kenyon, Beverly Skeete, and Claudia Fontaine, allowing each to showcase their talent on alternate verses. Later, she not only introduced her band but also had their names projected on the screen behind the stage. She also gathered all for a bow at show's end.
And that end came all too soon. Leaving the audience wanting more, Lennox brought out the iconic "Sweet Dreams" to kick off the first encore, which also included the powerful "I Need a Man." Satisfying an impatient buzz, Lennox returned to the stage for an impassioned delivery of "Why?" that simply devastated the faithful.
The show was a reminder that Lennox's solo albums come all too infrequently, and with them, the even more infrequent chance to see her perform. But, like all good things, she makes it worth the wait.—BJ