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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Funk/Disco Goddess Nona Hendryx Goes Mutatis Mutandis

Nona @ BB King's NYC, from my iPhone, photo by Jade Da Ru
The 68-year-old powerhouse known as Nona Henryx arrived, ultimately, onstage at BB King's in Times Square last night, giving a rousing and extremely energetic performance that not only had the crowd on its feet, but onstage with her as well. (See above.) She also proved, beyond doubt and in spandex, that she still has, beside one of the hottest voices, one of the hottest asses in all of show business.

It was the official release performance for her fantastic new album (the first in 20 years but worth the wait), Mutatis Mutandis, available on Amazon in the US and on Amazon UK.

She took to the stage in a black jacket with attached flounce skirt, only to unzip and doff it shortly into her set, revealing an amazing, gym-fit body in black spandex, tattoo-patterned black stockings and platform shoes. Attention divas of the day: this is how to look sexy without looking cheap.

Gitcha gitcha yaya, dada!
Somewhere along the way, I realize Nona has been a musical voice throughout my lifetime. She began as a Blubelle, one of Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles, a '60s girl group that transformed famously into the glam-rock/funk/disco group of Labelle. Their smash hit, "Lady Marmalade," remains one of the best remembered and loved songs of early disco.

Nona parted ways with the group and began an outstanding solo career, writing most of her songs, with a unique funk/soul/techno/disco fusion all her own. The integrity of that style, with additional flourishes, are on Mutatis Mutandis, I'm happy to report.

Requested to sing the Ellie Greenwich-penned "Keep It Confidential," a club hit for Nona, the diva responded by doing an improv abridged version, stepping offstage and walking through the front tables of the audience, accapella, with the crowd's in-time clapping as percussion with assist from the band and back-up girl riffs. Amazing live moment!

Her new album is quite political, with timely numbers on it like "Tea Party" and "The Ballad of Rush Limbaugh." She didn't do these onstage, however, but dived right into the big, splashy funk-disco of "Temple of Heaven," "Let's Give Love a Try" and "Mad As Hell," a politically tinged number you can dance to. Get your anger out your ass!

Nona's four-piece band was outstanding, as were the back-up vocalists. There was a man in black and two bodacious black girls in trashy tight, white tank tops and hot pants. Such were the costumes of the night but, boy, could they sing!

I love Nona's unique groove, so much more than the group Labelle could possibly ever handle. Her recent vocal evolution includes a rich falsetto breaking from her alto voice, put to good and charismatic use.

The diva did the rousing "Winds of Change" and "Transformatons" (bringing on rapper/singer Shane Rose to update the '80s dance hit). The new "Let's Give Love a Try" sequed fearlessly into "Take Me to the River" mid-way through. But her hit, "I Sweat (Going Through the Motions)" was the piece de resistance as she invited up audience members to dance behind her. Nona showed off her being game and open to anything that might happen here, especially. One queen tried to upstage Miss H on her stage, but she laughed and compared him to a member of the Cats chorus boys. Don't funk with the diva!

This impomptu chorus dance ultimately ended with the audience members turning around, backs to the still seated audience members, shaking their booties for a full minute at a time, along with Nona's, largely to comic effect. At this point, a good time was had by all and it signaled the end of the set.

Labelle Reunion
But Nona returned with even bigger and better for her encore. After a very Yoko-like, avant-garde rendition of "Strange Fruit," the Billie Holiday song (a track off Mutatis Mutandis), Nona invited up none other but the equally divine Sarah Dash! The two-thirds of LaBelle then beautifully shared the stage by belting out "Lady Marmalade" together.

We left BB King's elevated, wrung out, blissed out, very pleased and elevated in every way, onto hot, crowded 42nd Street. Welome back, Nona. Come back with your comeback soon!

[Opening act, Ryan Shaw, did a smooth soul set, in the solid tradition of Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross, for examples. His soulful cover of The Beatles' "Yesterday" was a true highlight.]

Classic Bluebelles music below:

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