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Isley Brothers feel recharged during 60th anniversary concert at Lindenwood University
Concert review

Isley Brothers feel recharged during 60th anniversary concert at Lindenwood University

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The Isley Brothers are 60 years deep into one of music’s most storied careers, so it’s easy to assume some of the spark may have dimmed. But that proved untrue at the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers’ 60th anniversary concert Saturday night at Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts.

The classic act felt recharged during a refreshed show that rolled out for two hours. It was a hometown concert for the group, Cincinnati natives adopted by St. Louis. Ronald Isley, 78, and Ernie Isley, 67, have lived in the suburbs here with their families for over 20 years. Last year, the Isley Brothers were inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame on Delmar Boulevard.

The concert Saturday night celebrated the band’s musical legacy, but also came with special acknowledgments of other great acts.

The Isley Brothers took the stage mostly decked out in Valentine’s red. Accompanying singer Ronald Isley and guitarist Ernie Isley was a cast that included a full band, a trio of female dancers, and backing singers Kandy Isley and Kim Johnson (Ronald Isley’s wife and sister-in-law, respectively).

Isley Brothers at J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts

The Isley Brothers perform at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts in St. Charles on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Isley Brothers at J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts

Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers performs at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts in St. Charles on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

“I’ve got about 350 songs to sing tonight,” Ronald Isley told the crowd, which seemed like a fair enough number considering the band’s rock-and-soul legacy that goes back to 1959’s “Shout” and extends to 2017’s “Power of Peace” album with Santana and beyond.

“I want to thank each and every one of you for hanging with us for 60 long years,” Ronald Isley said, still smoldering on stage despite moving a little slower. He sounded in very good voice.

“Fight the Power” opened the show, and felt as fitting a statement today as when it was released in 1975, though no commentary was made save for Ronald Isley bellowing “Somebody scream!” at the end of the song.

The group dug deep into its catalog with all the necessary hits such as “Groove With You” and “That Lady,” which ended with the first of several unmistakable, showy solos from Ernie Isley, who also wasn’t to be missed on “Choosey Lover,” “Voyage to Atlantis” and “Summer Breeze.”

Continuing to embrace hip-hop the way hip-hop has always embraced the Isley Brothers, Ronald Isley began “Between the Sheets” by reciting a line from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa.” The rapper’s song was built on the Isley Brothers’ hit, and is perhaps the best sampled use of an Isley Brothers’ song. The band kept that same hip-hop energy with “Footsteps in the Dark.” Rapper Reginald Johnson from Cincinnati came out to recite a verse from Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” which sampled “Footsteps in the Dark.”

Continuing to bring different elements into its songs, the band’s “Smooth Sailin’” carried an interpolation of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.” Pulling the audience into the song, a man and a woman were called on to sing as well, with mixed results. A dozen or so women crowded the stage to show off their moves during “It’s Your Thing” and “Twist and Shout.”

“Something about Missouri, y’all know how to dance,” Ronald Isley said.

Isley Brothers at J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts

Audience members dance on stage while the Isley Brothers perform at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts in St. Charles on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Isley Brothers at J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts

Kandy Isley (left) performs with her husband Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts in St. Charles on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Recounting encounters with many fellow legends over the years, Ronald Isley name-checked Bob Dylan, who penned “Lay Lady Lay,” performed here, and sang with the late Luther Vandross’ vocals for a duet of sorts of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” He also spoke of his good friend Aretha Franklin, honored with a powerhouse performance of “Jesus Loves Me” led by Kandy Isley, who truly took the crowd to church on this Saturday night.

Kandy Isley and Kim Johnson, glorious throughout in their backing roles, were brought front and center for “Make Me Say It Again Girl” and “At Your Best (You Are Love).”

“How many of you all know about Motown,” Ronald Isley asked, as the group eased into “This Old Heart of Mine,” followed by the group’s popular version of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With.” A medley continued acknowledging others such as Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly’s “Joy and Pain.”

Ronald Isley shouted out singer and producer Angela Winbush, his ex-wife, as he introduced “Spend the Night.” Another shoutout went to pastor David Crank of Faith Church accompanied by “For the Love of You.”

Throughout the night, Ronald Isley asked “can I sing what I want to sing?” These days that doesn’t include songs the group recorded with the embattled R. Kelly such as “Contagious” and “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know). Though the songs introduced the band to younger fans with Ronald Isley’s Mr. Biggs persona, the Isley Brothers dropped these collaborations from the live repertoire, as have other singers who have worked with Kelly. It felt like the smartest move.

The concert ended as every Isley Brothers show should end — with an anthemic moment of Ernie Isley holding his guitar over his head while playing with his teeth.

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