The Arlington crowd for this concert was so enthusiastic that there was a moment at the start of the second encore when it seemed as though it would not let Queen Latifah leave the building. Cultivating her crossover persona Dana Owens at the same time that she wisely continues to revel in her stardom as the Queen, she is enormously charismatic and puts on a great concert-no matter what you want to call her. The fact that she allowed one of her backup singers to outshine her vocally (but only for one number) just goes to show that Latifah is as confident as she needs to be in her position, holding down three big jobs at a time-hip-hop elder, jazz/blues/soul vocalist, and Hollywood movie star.
Backed by a 13-piece orchestra and watched over carefully by her father, an elegant gentleman who stood at the back of the stage nodding his head for the entire show, Latifah opened with “I’m Gonna Live Until I Die,” a Rat Pack classic that put her firmly in the standards groove. But no sooner was she done with this nod to Sammy, Frank, and Dean than she was off in another direction, this time a big and slightly raunchy blues number. The stylistic innovations kept coming as Latifah turned once again, this time to funk, and called out soloists with a musical question-“what do we need to get funky?”-that had everyone in the band jumping up to answer.
There’s always the danger that, when a big band such as this one attempts to hopscotch across so many genres, it will end up sounding like a compromise, but for the most part this ensemble avoided watering things down, and if the funk sometimes sounded a bit like Afrika Bambaataa’s electro, well, that’s the Queen’s prerogative. She is, after all, OG hip-hop royalty. In this setting, early Mary J. Blige counts as a classic, and it was her song “Real Love” that provided the night’s high point, an amazing succession of vocal performances by Latifah, her two female backup singers, and a wonderful musician and rip-roaring male vocalist who goes by Romeo.
Encores, as mentioned earlier, were mandatory. The stronger of the two was actually the first-the slow one-a vivid, highly dynamic “Lush Life.” And yes, she did rap her hit “U.N.I.T.Y.,” and it is as sassy as when it was new.