Every Darlene Love concert should be like this: A stage crammed with dozens of musicians creating a huge wall of sound; longtime fan and friend Steven Van Zandt leading the band and playing sizzling lead guitar. Alas, she can’t do this all the time. It’s too expensive to hire all those musicians, and Van Zandt, as much as he may love indulging his inner Phil Spector, isn’t always available. But she did it Saturday night, in a CD Release concert for her new Van Zandt-produced album Introducing Darlene Love at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park. And those who were there can say to themselves, today, “I saw the ultimate Darlene Love show.”
There were about 40 musicians onstage for most of the show, with large horn and string sections (courtesy of the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra), PLUS about 20 more when the Glory to God Singers were added for gospel songs “Marvelous” and “Jesus Is the Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin’),” and “River Deep — Mountain High.” Love, who is 74, but has lost exactly none of her vocal power over the years. Her voice did get slightly buried at times by the big, bold sound emanating from all those instruments and singers; but virtually any other singer would have been totally buried.
The first portion of the show focused on the songs of Introducing Darlene Love, which will be released on Sept. 18; “Sweet Freedom” in particular (written by the the veteran team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) came off as a fresh, bracing rock anthem, and Van Zandt capably handled the duet vocals on “Still Too Soon to Know” that are sung on the album by Bill Medley.
Then Love left the stage and Van Zandt sang lead on three of his own songs: “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “Until the Good Is Gone” and “Forever.” What a great surprise, for Van Zandt fans, to hear him sing these gems with so much instrumental power behind him. A once-in-a-lifetime moment within a once-in-a-lifetime show.
Love then returned for the greatest-hits portion of the show, singing songs such as “He’s a Rebel” and “Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home” with another longtime supporter, Paul Shaffer, helping out on keyboards. The Glory to God Singers added to the majesty of the gospel epic “Marvelous,” and then it was back to Introducing Darlene Love highlights with the Joan Jett-written “Little Liar” (featuring an intense Van Zandt guitar solo) and the dark, Bruce Springsteen-written “Night Closing In.”
Encores were a stunning “River Deep — Mountain High” (recorded on the new album as well) and then another celebratory gospel song, the Van Zandt-written “Jesus Is the Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin’).” I thought they might close with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” but I guess it’s still too early in the year.
Love talked, at one point, about meeting Van Zandt decades ago, at a show she was doing at the Roxy in Los Angeles, and how that led to her moving to New York and launching a new, more fruitful phase of her career. They’ve worked together briefly at times, over the years, but this album — and this show, which may never be repeated — represent a kind of culmination.
It’s not just talk anymore. They really got it done, as well as it can be done, and I can just imagine how good they must feel about it.
Love will perform at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood on Feb. 13. She also lists a Dec. 18 show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on her web site, darleneloveworld.com, but tickets to that are not on sale yet.
Here is the setlist from Saturday’s show:
“Among the Believers”
“Love Kept Us Foolin’ Around”
“Still Too Soon to Know” (duet with Van Zandt)
“Just Another Lonely Mile”
“Who Under Heaven”
“Love on the Wrong Side of Town” (Van Zandt)
“Until the Good Is Gone” (Van Zandt)
“Forever” (Van Zandt)
“He’s Sure the Boy I Love” (with Paul Shaffer)
“He’s a Rebel” (with Shaffer)
“(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” (with Shaffer)
“Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home”/”Da Doo Ron Ron” (with Shaffer)
“Marvelous” (with the Glory to God Singers)
“Night Closing In”
“River Deep — Mountain High” (with Shaffer and the Glory to God Singers)
“Jesus Is the Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin’)” (with Shaffer and the Glory to God Singers)