When someone of British soul singer Lisa Stansfield’s caliber goes on tour in America, it usually isn’t met with all the fanfare that other artists receive.
That’s because: 1) Lisa didn’t have nearly the number of hits or record sales here that superstars of her day like Whitney, Mariah, Janet, Madonna or Celine did; and 2) she’s been out of the U.S. spotlight so long that the amount of recall had by casual fans is likely very low.
As a result, it would be easy to lump Stansfield into one-hit-wonder status as the British girl who had that big soul and pop crossover hit “All Around The World,” a tune that topped Billboard’s Black Singles chart (as the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart was known then) in 1990.
But it would also be inaccurate to do so.
Lisa Stansfield had a considerable string of hits in the first half of the 1990s both here and abroad, including three No. 1 R&B singles on the American charts, more than any other white female in soul chart history (including Teena Marie, who surprisingly only had one).
Those three No. 1s plus other gems made up the 18-song set list that Stansfield performed on a modest stage at The Vic theatre in Chicago on October 21, 2018. The Vic was one of 13 stops on a very brief tour of North America in October, which culminated with her final stop at the Fillmore in San Francisco last Friday night (10/26).
A check of Stansfield’s website shows the October run as the extent of her tour for the time being, but I was fortunate to catch her in the Windy City on the 21st, and I wanted to share the experience with readers and her fans.
To appreciate Stansfield’s Chicago performance, one must first get to know the venue. The Vic is a small historic theatre in Chicago’s Lakeview area that doubles as a movie house and a music venue. It seats between 1000 and 1400 people and has multiple levels and bars. The 106-year-old landmark has played host to many different types of musicians over the years, including, most notably, the ‘90s rock group Soundgarden, who played their first reunion show there in 2010, and current pop star Ariana Grande, who previewed her recent No. 1 album Sweetener at The Vic in August.
Aside from its early 20th-century aesthetics, The Vic is known for its great acoustics, which is a draw for artists like Stansfield, whose blend of soul, jazz and pop demands the best in sound quality.
So it was no surprise that the British chanteuse and her seven-member band (plus one female background singer) chose The Vic to acquaint herself with some eager fans who were more than happy to give Stansfield a great big ol’ Chicago welcome.
And that’s exactly what she received.
From the start, it was clear the soulful singer had been missed by the many people in the audience who whistled, howled and cheered as loudly as they could while she breezed through songs old and new. The most diehard Stansfield fans in attendance showed equal love to both vintages, often shouting or mouthing the lyrics to the newer songs as if they were as big here as her earlier hits.
It was the new material that got Lisa started as she kicked things off with two songs from her 2018 album, Deeper: “Everything” and the title track. It was immediately obvious that Stansfield was still of very fine voice and that the nearly three decades since she first emerged on the American front had not taken much of a toll at all.
Although this tour was billed to promote her new album, it was only three songs in that she started digging into her older hits catalogue, first with the Barry White cover “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up,” a song that White took to No. 2 R&B in the 1970s, but which Stansfield easily put her own mark on two decades later.
It was during that sultrily delivered tune that Stansfield removed her jacket to reveal a very tone set of arms and a svelte physique that made it clear she had taken very good care of herself in all these years she’s been away from the American stage. If there is any correlation between one’s physical fitness and the ability to maintain her singing voice over the years, Stansfield wasn’t offering much evidence to the contrary.
After the Barry White tune, it was back to another track – the third of five – from her new album, the ballad “Hole In My Heart,” which preceded the funky “Make Love To Ya,” a song punctuated by an excellent sax solo during the bridge.
Stansfield continued with her mix of old and new, including a crowd favorite, “Change,” and her last No. 1 American R&B hit, “All Woman,” the 1992 ballad that resonated with so many women who’ve languished in emotionally draining relationships they – for whatever reason – cannot escape.
That was followed by “Someday (I’m Coming Back),” Stansfield’s overlooked contribution to 1992’s The Bodyguard soundtrack, and the corollary to “All Woman” in its depiction of a relationship the protagonist tries to re-enter after being cast aside.
Next was another American R&B No. 1, “You Can’t Deny It,” followed by three more songs, including the disco-ey latest single “Never Ever,” another track from Deeper. They all featured a very energetic Stansfield dancing and prancing across the short stage and having fun with her band mates all the while.
By the time Lisa got to the biggie, “All Around The World,” she was sixteen songs deep into her 90-minute set. Predictably, the crowd got amped upon hearing the opening bars of “World.” Cell phones lit up and began recording every line, note for note, with many people posting video feeds on Facebook Live. In the row in front of mine, one fan’s Facebook Live post was receiving likes so fast you would have thought she (the fan) was a superstar.
And, if you’re wondering, Stansfield did not hit those high notes that punctuated the original song. Instead, she left the heavy lifting to the audience, which was glad to take part in the singalong, particularly during the final chorus: “I’ve been around the wor-rld, looking for my bay-yay-be, been around the worl-or-orld…and I’m gonna, I’m gonna fi-yi-yi-yi-yind…”
It still sounded as sweet on this autumn night in 2018 as it did nearly 29 years earlier.
And “World,” of course, was the perfect song to end the main set before Lisa and band left the stage and re-emerged for the encore, which included another new track from Deeper, a tune called “Butterflies” (not a cover of the 2001 MJ song). For that one, Stansfield showed off some nice scatting talents along with a spirited galloping dance move that no one expected.
Finally, she ended the night with a medley of her own “Live Together,” a top-10 hit in the U.K. from her Affection album, and the old Candi Staton tune, “Young Hearts Run Free,” a No. 1 R&B song from 1976.
If nothing else, that last song and her performance overall showed that Lisa Stansfield still has a young heart and that there’s much more gas left in the tank if she should decide to do another tour soon.
We just hope it won’t be eons before she decides to come to this part of the world again.
Lisa Stansfield Set List at The Vic in Chicago on October 21, 2018:
- Never, Never Gonna Give You Up (Barry White cover)
- Hole In My Heart
- Make Love To Ya
- So Natural
- Time To Make You Mine
- All Woman
- Someday (I’m Coming Back)
- You Can’t Deny It
- The Real Thing
- Never Ever
- People Hold On
- All Around The World
- (Encore) Butterflies
- (Encore) Live Together/Young Hearts Run Free