By Roy Trakin.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame vocalist Darlene Love is another ubiquitous pop figure that took almost 40 years to be recognized, the voice behind such Phil Spector Wall of Sound girl group hits as “He’s a Rebel,” “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” “Do Doo Ron Ron” and “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” among many others.
In front of a jam-packed crowed at this fabled Sunset Strip venue, Love took the stage in front of a 20-plus piece band squeezed onto the tiny stage, led by none other than Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano sidekick, E-Street guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, who produced her just-released album, the ironically titled Introducing Darlene Love, for his Wicked Cool/Columbia Records label.
Fresh off her triumph in the Oscar-winning documentary about back-up vocalists 20 Feet From Stardom, Love has a new lease on life, and with her head of blonde curls and sparkling pants suit, she puts the big band through its paces.
The first part of the show is devoted to the new album, the horn-punctuated Van Zandt-penned “Among the Believers,” the rousing gospel of Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil’s “Sweet Freedom,” the operatic grandeur of Elvis Costello’s “Still Too Soon to Know,” the epic sprawl of Springsteen’s “Just Another Lonely Mile,” the funky take on “Painkiller” its co-writer Michael Des Barres looking on from the audience swelling with pride next to his ex, I’m With the Band’s Miss Pamela.
Little Steven takes a soaring guitar solo on his own “Last Time,” the three back-up vocalists offer up some “sha la la las” on Elvis Costello’s other contribution, the first single, “Forbidden Nights,” with its video of a trip to the beach, and a stately, dramatic version of Jimmy Webb’s “Who Under Heaven” that brings the first part of the set to a breathtaking close.
Van Zandt then takes over for a three-song set that starts with Southside Johnny’s “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” a song penned by The Boss and Silvio for their Asbury Park cohort, followed by a pair of Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul chestnuts, “Until the Good is Gone” and another he dedicates to his wife Maureen, “the Twitter Queen,” cheering him on from the balcony, the hyper-romantic “Forever.”
When Love returns, it’s a trip back in time – “The Boy I Love,” “He’s a Rebel,” “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Wait Until My Bobby Gets Home,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” sounding as fresh today as they did coming out of a transistor radio in the ‘60s.
“I first met Steven and Bruce 35 years ago down the block at the Roxy, when Lou Adler was nice enough to book me,” she reminisces, before finishing with “Little Liar,” a song penned for her by Joan Jett and Desmond Child that has all the arena-rock earmarks of something by Aerosmith, Journey or Boson, with that instantly recognizable voice turning it into an anthem.
A throbbing, pounding version of the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich classic, “River Deep Mountain High,” Phil Spector’s original bete noire, nimbly climbs the peaks and valleys of that number, with Van Zandt’s take-it-to-the-church finale, “Jesus Is The Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin),” making all of us feel like offering a contribution to the collection plate.
It’s somehow totally appropriate that, while her mentor rots away in a prison cell, Darlene Love is free at last, liberated and ready to make good on a promise long ago.