Lionel Richie brought his Hello Hits! tour to the legendary Hollywood Bowl on Monday night (Aug. 5). It has been 45 years, almost to the week, since Richie landed his first top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100—Commodores‘ funky instrumental “Machine Gun.” While many of his contemporaries from the ’70s and ’80s have faded—or died—Richie is still at it; still able to fill top venues.
Richie’s career stats are beyond impressive. He wrote or co-wrote a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 each year for nine consecutive years, 1978-1986. Richie is one of only two songwriters in Grammy history to land six song of the year noms. The other: Paul McCartney.
Though he wasn’t top of mind in the ’90s and ’00s, Richie has made a notable resurgence in recent years. Tuskegee, the 2012 album on which he revisited his hits with the help of top country stars, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Richie was the 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year honoree. He was a 2017 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. His visibility increased in 2018 when he signed on as a judge on ABC’s reboot of American Idol, alongside Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.
Below, find the most notable moments from Richie’s Hollywood Bowl show.
Country Meets R&B
Many of Richie’s best songs, including “Easy,” “Sail On” and “Stuck on You,” meld strains of country and R&B. Richie didn’t invent this blend—Ray Charles‘ groundbreaking album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music came out in 1962, 15 years before “Sail On”—but he carried the tradition forward in the 1970s and 1980s. This comes naturally to Richie, who was born in Tuskegee, Ala. and was exposed to both genres while growing up.
Two surprising outside song choices
Richie has had so many hits that he was forced to leave out such major hits as “Still,” “Oh No,” “Love Will Conquer All” and “Ballerina Girl.” But he did include portions of two outside songs that were unexpected. He included a big chunk of Ohio Players‘ 1975 smash “Fire” in his performance of Commodores’ 1977 funk smash “Brick House” (which he called his favorite Commodores song). And his backing band included a fragment of Van Halen‘s 1984 smash “Jump” (the famous synth riff) in their performance of “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
Commodores Get Their Due
Richie’s career didn’t enter the stratosphere until he went solo in 1981, but this show suggested that, song for song, the hits he wrote and performed with Commodores have held up better than his solo hits. Of the 20 songs in the set, eight—including six in a row right in the middle of the set—were ones he recorded with his old group. Commodores were somewhat overshadowed in their prime by Earth, Wind & Fire. But the group’s material has stood the test of time.
A Politics-Free Zone
Unlike fellow superstar (and one-time duet partner) Barbra Streisand, who eviscerated President Trump at her recent Madison Square Garden concert, Richie didn’t say a word about politics. He didn’t even comment on the recent spate of mass shootings—even though the U.S. and California flags on either side of the stage were at half-mast in memory of those lost in those tragedies. The humanitarian focus of “We Are the World” was the only time the outside world came into this show.
Don’t Lead Us On
“For 35 years, I’ve asked Miss Diana Ross to come on stage with me,” Richie said in setting up a performance of their 1981 megahit “Endless Love.” “For 35 years, she has said no.” Naturally, the audience assumed the diva would walk out and sing the song with him. Why else would he build it up like that? He tried to tamp down expectations. “Y’all can sit down. She ain’t comin.” Instead, he asked the women in the audience to sing Ross’ part. By song’s end, he seemed to realize that he erred in toying with the audience. “That was a disaster,” he admitted.
Saving the Best for Last
Richie encored with one of his best singles, the festive 1983 smash “All Night Long (All Night).” Fun fact: The vibrant song won an American Music Award for favorite soul/R&B song in January 1984—handing the then-invincible Michael Jackson his only loss of the night. Jackson was nominated in the category with “Billie Jean.” (Richie mentioned Jackson in his intro to “We Are the World,” which they wrote together. He referred to him as “my dear friend.”)
In a Lighthearted Mood
Richie hinted that the American Idol TV gig boosted his bank balance. At one point, he noted how nice the night was. “I hung a moon—compliments of American Idol. If you look closely you can see Katy hanging off of it.” Not all of his jokes landed as well as that one did. At another point, he noted: “A 300-pound man walked up to me, put his hand on me and said, ‘Lionel, I made love to you many times.’ I said ‘that’s a lie.’ I didn’t want to make eye contact.” The punch-line, of course, is that the man had made love to his wife with Lionel’s music playing many times. That joke would have seemed corny 35 years ago. Now, it seems archaic.
At the end of the show, Richie said, “I’m actually quite amazed that after 200 years in the business, the enthusiasm is still there like when the songs were new. On behalf of Commodores and myself, it’s been an amazing ride.”
The full set list for Lionel Richie’s Hollywood Bowl show:
“Running With the Night”
“Stuck on You”
“Dancing on the Ceiling”
“Three Times a Lady”
“Lady (You Bring Me Up)”
“Just to be Close to You”
“Say You, Say Me”
“We Are the World”
“All Night Long (All Night)”