Darlene Love and Patti LaBelle perform "Christmas (Baby Please Don't Go)"
It wasn't long ago that Darlene Love complained that she did more than just Christmas shows—but that was before her long overdue induction (2011) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, her central part in the Academy Award-winning (2013) 20 Feet from Stardom documentary about background singers, and her stunning seize-the-moment a cappella gospel "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" during that Oscar's acceptance.
So sure enough, Love is now performing all over throughout the year (she did a great show in July at Lincoln Center Out of Doors), while upping her traditional Christmas show at B. B. King's from one when she started 10 years ago to three this year—Saturday night's first to be followed Dec. 23 and 26. And thanks to the addition of new material from her ironically titled, criminally overlooked album from last year Introducing Darlene Love, the show goes beyond her legendary Phil Spector-produced hits and vocals on his landmark 1963 A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector album.
Of course, those Christmas album songs "Marshmallow World," "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"—which she sang (with Patti LaBelle) on The View Friday for the second year in a row after a 28-year run on Late Night With David Letterman—remain the core of the show, they and the Spector hits like "He's a Rebel," "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "Wait 'Til My Bobby Gets Home." But at Saturday night's show Love devoted a segment to the Steven Van Zandt-produced Introducing that included his "Among the Believers" and Elvis Costello's "Forbidden Nights": Not surprisingly, Love's band of two keyboards, two horns, guitar, bass, drums, percussion and three background vocalists had a Wall of Sound crossed with E Street Band.
Love also sang her 1992 single "All Alone on Christmas," from the Home Alone 2: Lost in New York soundtrack and written for her by Van Zandt. And as usual, the ultimate background singer made room for her own, most notably Milton Vann, who went to church on "O Holy Night" and took the Luther Vandross part on "I Listen to the Bells," which Love recorded with him on his 1995 This is Christmas album.
The most moving part of Love's Christmas shows, though, is her version of Walter Hawkins' gospel classic "Marvelous," which is also on Introducing, but has been a staple of her concert repertoire since her beloved late background singer Patty Darcy demanded it be kept in the set. Love now performs it together with her singers in memory of Darcy, followed by a teary group hug.
Otherwise, Love continues to bring joy to the world—year-round, now, instead of just at her Christmas shows. And not to worry, legion of Ula Hedwig fans: Hedwig, who's been singing backup loyally for Love for 35 years, is currently absent due to doctor's orders for vocal rest.
"Her job is not in jeopardy!" Love promised, not that there was ever any doubt.