Ron & Ernie Isley of the legendary group The Isley Brothers are singing and playing a little bit softer now, with a little less of the fervor for which they were known during their decades-long, hit-making heyday.
But what they brought to Modesto Saturday night was more than enough to transform the majestic Gallo Center for the Arts into a jumping old-school R & B juke joint, during a stop of their critically-acclaimed You Make Me Wanna Shout 60th Anniversary Tour.
Ron has hit stronger, higher notes, and held them longer than he did last night. He’s also been more energetic onstage than he was at the Gallo Center. At several points during the show, Ron sang while perched atop a well-placed stool, with his brilliantly-sequined sneakers on full display. At one point, during one of the group’s pleading ballads, he joked “I’d get down on my knees for you, baby…if I wasn’t in these pants!”
But the 78 year old icon STILL whipped the crowd into a complete frenzy during a show that began, surprisingly, with a few bars from Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” before launching into a searing version of the group’s own anthemic “Fight The Power.” Even having been slowed by Father Time, Ron still displayed more than enough vocal power to cement The Isley Brothers’ legendary status.
“Let’s Go Crazy” was both a tribute to The Purple One and an invitation to the hundreds of fans in the audience. And we took him up on it during a fantastic, 90 minute show.
It took a minute for Ron to get his voice warmed up, sometime slightly after “Between The Sheets” when he tossed his trademark hat aside and invited a fan from the audience, Stacy Butler-Lewis, to sing Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” with him. Butler-Lewis’ enthusiastic performance seemed to bring out the fire — and the dog — in Ron. His voice was blazingly hot after that.
By contrast, from the outset, his little brother Ernie played his guitar like it was 1973 — and with his mouth at a couple of points during the show! “Virtuoso” is a term that could easily be applied to him.
The Isley Brothers left R & B fans screaming into the night, with engaging, sensuous live versions of their own hits, including “it’s Your Thing,” “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You),” “Twist And Shout,” and “Choosy Lover.” They also surprised with capable covers of hits by other artists including the aforementioned Khan, Sam Cooke, Frankie Beverly & Maze, and Whitney Houston.
It was only during that last cover that The Isley Brothers lost some of their audience, as Ron’s wife, Kandy, took over lead vocals on Houston’s version of “Jesus Loves Me” from The Bodyguard. Kandy was more than up to the task vocally, but she drug the song — and the accompanying benediction — too far for many in the audience, coming close to making an altar call with vocal pyrotechnics accompanied by overt promises for deliverance. While some seemed to enjoy it, several fans told me afterward that that segment of the show went on a little too long.
But as I think about it, Ron has made it through a 2004 stroke and a stint in federal prison over a decade ago, and Ernie’s faced his share of tough times, so they’ve got a right to testify!
The Isley Brothers got the old school R & B concert back on track quickly, with the hits “Voyage To Atlantis” and “Summer Breeze” before ending the show with with a rambunctious “Shout,” their first smash, from the fall of 1959.
It was no surprise when the house lights came up just after that and The Isley Brothers left the stage. These guys weren’t giving an encore. They’d left everything they had on that Gallo Center stage.
I was just happy to have been in the orbit of a legendary group, near the top of their game.
Click here for details on The Isley Brothers and their current You Make Me Wanna Shout 60th Anniversary Tour.