LAS VEGAS – Even those with only a passing knowledge of Lionel Richie knows that the man is a human jukebox.
Five decades of hits – first with Alabama-bred R&B-funksters the Commodores followed by his solo arsenal of glossy pop songs – must be squeezed and sliced into a 110-minute performance that satisfies both the legions who travel the globe to see Richie live and the Vegas tourists seeking a slight break from the casino floor.
Richie – the 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year honoree who last played a pair of Atlanta shows at Chastain in 2013 and 2014 – is an ideal fill-in at the 4,200 capacity Axis theater at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino at the center of the Las Vegas Strip, regular home to Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and, next year, the Backstreet Boys.
He’s played four sets of dates this year and will wrap (for now) his residency with three shows at the end of December.
Richie, 67, is so effortlessly likeable, a beaming superstar who still presents himself in a cloak of Southern humility and clearly relishes being onstage, as evidenced at one of his October performances.
With a taut, five-piece band backing him on a clean, open stage surrounded by five video panels that provide a prime view regardless of seat location, Richie is there to nourish nostalgia, yes, but also to steer a musical party.
“I know you came to hear me sing, and before the night is over you’re going to be crying on each other,” he said with a megawatt grin, reminding the fawning crowd of his penchant for tear-in-your-beer balladry to counter those fizzy pop tunes. “My job is to play all the hits, all night long.”
Richie maintains his oath. A hip remix of “Running with the Night” revs fans early with whirling white lights, while an overly harmonica-ized “Penny Lover” and silken “Easy” (punctuated with signature “Ows!”) mashed up with “My Love” set the tone early in the show.
Of course Richie is a talker, and in between the musical sunburst that is “You Are” and the melancholy drama of “Still,” he regales the crowd with practiced – but not rote – patter about the three generations of fans who now attend his shows (“Your mama and daddy raised you well!” he says of those who refer to him as “Mr. Richie”).
He’s self-deprecating about his canon of love songs (“Oh No,” “Stuck on You,” “Endless Love,” performed with the help of the female voices in the room) and vivacious and engaged when the tempo ticks upward for “Dancing on the Ceiling” and a Commodores segment that spotlights “Fancy Dancer” (filled with pulsing pink, red and neon lights) and a thick and funky “Brick House.”
Through it all, Richie’s energy never wanes. He frequently swipes his face with a towel, but the sweat still glistens because he’s still working. He struts among plumes of pyro during “Fire” and still looks awed when the crowd sings along fervently to “Hello” and the mirror ball drops for “We Are the World” (“We need this more now than ever,” he said).
Richie toured the globe for nearly three years with a similar hits-laden tour, but let’s hope that he returns to Vegas for another round of dates in 2017. There is always room for a polished showman who is still proud to be an authentic musician.
"Lionel Richie – All the Hits"
8 p.m. Dec. 27, 29-30. $59-$219. The Axis at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino Las Vegas. 702-777-6737, www.ticketmaster.com.
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