It was a night of panting, gasping, sweating -- for the folks who had to climb to their back-row seats. Onstage at Constitution Hall, where Rick James and Teena Marie pair-bonded for a long, lush reunion on Friday, things were a little mellower.
When Rick and Teena -- he in a black ensemble with silver fringes, she in a leather bustier with a large, sparkly belt buckle that made her look like the world's sexiest Teletubby -- crept gingerly down a set of stairs to center stage, no one in the audience -- even those who hadn't been born during the stars' Reagan-era heyday -- would have been fooled into thinking they were seeing Beyonce and Jay-Z. Did James, who suffered a stroke in 1998, need to keep to geriatric-ward speed? More likely, the pace was set by the tiny diva from "Venice Harlem," who, soon after her entrance, kicked off her shoes mid-song and requested "my little sawed-off black boots."
The hardest-working people in the room were the roadies, scurrying about to retrieve Marie's cast-off pumps and to bring the right footwear ("Take those boots back and get the other ones," she ordered) and to right the mike stands that James had thrown down and left in his wake.
But this is not to say that the royal couple was coasting. True, it took a while for James to warm up. "I'm a Sucker for Your Love," the first big duo number (after Marie's fluid rendition of "Deja Vu") was largely carried by Marie, with James's strut and rasp sadly suggestive of a really good karaoke version of Rick James. But once he got there, he was ready to go all night.
Delightfully playful -- grabbing his bassist in a friendly headlock and rubbing his bald head, scatting nonsense syllables with Marie -- James hit his peak in "Fire and Desire," a duet that presents the singers as exes who feel the old torches smoldering again. "I don't need the microphone to say what I gotta say," he declared (thunk! cue the roadie) before engaging in some unplugged caterwauling with his Lady T. When Marie crooned, "If you could just put your arms around me one more time," James deadpanned, "[Shoot], no [expletive] problem!"
Squint a little there, and you'd have seen Beauty and the Beast. (Squint when James was onstage in his black ruffly pirate shirt, and unfortunately you'd have seen S. Epatha Merkerson from "Law & Order.") Marie was a beauty, reeling off perfect melismatic phrases that Mariah Carey would give all her glitter for, and bopping with that candy-sweet voice that belies its 48 years. When she was helped off the stage and stood on a seat in the front section, reveling in the end of "Dear Lover," only the upturned cell phones in the crowd indicated that it wasn't 1983.
Morris Day and the Time, in fine and natty form, opened the evening by asking "What time is it?" After four hours of spangles, pimp suits and "Super Freak," it seemed long past time to hear this assemblage of funksters again.