ARETHA FRANKLIN at Roy Thomson Hall, Friday (April 12). Rating: NNN
Aretha Franklin is still a diva. Antics that might seem entitled coming from a lesser performer - changing up the lineup on a whim, pleading with the house to turn down the air - are giddily anticipated from the undisputed Queen of Soul. Fifty years into her career, she remains in firm command.
And from the minute she emerged, on-schedule and wearing a full-length, turquoise frock, Franklin owned her gospel-, blues- and R&B-laden show . Opening with (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher, Natural Woman and Think (Freedom) set a bouncy tone and most of the audience was out of their soft-seaters, delighting in nostalgia.
Her voice was rich and true, and often, just when a song seemed to be over, she surprised with free-styling vocal theatrics. As the show progressed, Franklin seemed at times fatigued, and struggled a bit in the higher register of ballads such as Make Them Hear You. But these are minor quibbles, and when she wavered, her massive backing band - her own 12-piece, conductor-led musicians, as well as a 10-piece brass section courtesy of Toronto - remained magnificent.
Had this been a heyday Aretha of the 60s or 70s, she might have held final notes longer, sang them louder. And if the present-day singer elicits goosebumps and wet eyes, it's chilling to think of what that Aretha would have mustered. But what she's lost in sheer vocal power, the septuagenarian makes up for in gravitas. Seeing her now, knowing she inspired and informed the Whitneys, Mary Js and Beyoncés, makes the experience feel more important. Encoring with (what else?) Respect was the ultimate cherry on a short, but sweet, set. Hearing the original feminist anthem sung live by the greatest singer to ever walk the earth? Pure bucket list.