- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

A packed house at DAR Constitution Hall enthusiastically responded with an unmistakable “yes” when Lionel Richie kicked off Friday night’s concert by musically posing the question from one of his most well-known songs, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”

Clearly pumped by the response, the singer-songwriter — looking in fine form after more than a decade since his last major release, multiple surgeries for throat polyps and two messy divorces — gave them what they came for: a nonstop two-hour performance of his biggest hits.

“We’re gonna play so many songs tonight that you’re going to get tired, ” Mr. Richie said.

He made good on his promise.

Following “Hello,” his 1988 blockbuster (emerging anew for a younger generation thanks to its appearance in last year’s box office hit “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), he segued into “I Call It Love” — the first hit single from his latest album, “Coming Home.”

The melodic and breezy tune, co-written by Norwegian tunesmiths Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen (who have penned hits for Beyonce, Jessica Simpson and Rhianna) and Taj Jackson, son of original Jackson 5 member Tito Jackson, is pleasant enough but not quite in the same league as material from his glory days as frontman for the Commodores (1972-1982), or in his heyday as one of the most successful pop superstars of the 1980s.

Mr. Richie, in fact, performed only one other tune from his new CD, “What You Are.” The hip-hop infused ballad, co-written by Jermaine Dupri, received only fleeting applause from his core baby boomer fan base and those under 30 who know him best as the dad of “A Simple Life” co-star Nicole Richie.

Almost instantly, however, he returned to his glory years of the ‘70s and ‘80s and the never-ending Richie hit parade rolled forth.

Backed by a stellar quintet (led by music producer-songwriter Chuckii Booker on keyboards), the lanky Mr. Richie rocked out with such old school Commodores fare as “Slippery When Wet,” “Too Hot to Trot” — and, of course, that all-time favorite party anthem celebrating female comeliness, “Brickhouse,” (further enhanced by a few riffs from the Ohio Players’ 1975 dance hit “Fire”).

Now 57, Mr. Richie can still cut a rug but, apparently thinking better of it, quickly settled in behind the baby grand for his compositions “Just to Be Close to You,” “Easy (As Sunday Morning),” “Still,” “Sail On,” “Three Times a Lady” and “Endless Love,” with the audience chiming in on the vocals performed by Diana Ross on the 1981 chart-topper.

The much-requested “Zoom,” an album favorite from his Commodores era, ushered in assorted works from Mr. Richie’s ‘80s glory days, including “Here We Are,” “Running With the Night” (from “Can’t Slow Down,” his 1983 Grammy-winning Album of the Year), “Ballerina Girl” (written for his daughter, Nicole) and “Say You, Say Me,” Mr. Richie’s Oscar-winning tune from the film “White Nights.”

The pulsating calypso rhythms of “All Night Long” brought the evening to a fitting close, with fans boogeying in the aisle and further transported back in time to the 1983 dance hit — and all without the shoulder pads and leg warmers.

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