This past weekend the beautiful, newly-rebuilt Howard Theatre in Washington, DC was the perfect setting for the return to the area of Chaka Khan, who herself looked like a new woman. After slimming down over the past few months, Chaka's curves were as right and tight as her fly girl physique from the late '70s. She looked stunning as she strutted on stage for the second of two shows in a sparkly, skin-tight outfit and heeled knee boots with her signature curly halo of hair framing her face. It was quite evident that Chaka knew she looked good, exuding a certain diva confidence, and she'd soon show the rapt audience that she sounded even better.
Khan began her set on a high note with the disco number "Clouds," getting the show off to a rousing start. Despite a slight delay that left some restless for the concert to begin, it quickly became an afterthought once we all fell under Chaka's vocal and visual spell. She kept it groovy, easing her way into the fan favorite "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me" before launching into the upbeat jam "I Know You, I Live You." Chaka shimmied across the stage with her patented side-to-side two-step as many audience members who had yet to sit down since the show started joined her (myself included).
Chaka slowed the tempo down slightly but still kept it funky with her next songs, "I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone)" and "Pack'd My Bags," reaching back into the Rufus catalog. She used the segue between songs to share that "Pack'd My Bags" was her "baby daddy song," which she wrote when she left her daughter's father. Getting kicked to the curb shouldn't sound this good, but Chaka herself stated at the end of the song that you just "gotta walk right and make it look easy." She surely did that all night, singing one classic after the other. "Stay," "Sweet Thing," and "My Funny Valentine" came next before she took us to church on "Through the Fire." Chaka shared her testimony about overcoming drug addiction and counted her blessings, saying that she "should be with Whitney now." That was a very powerful moment in the set, and Chaka rightfully gave praises to the Most High for bringing her through the fire and to the other side.
The only lull in the show came when Chaka sang "Earth Song," a Rufus album cut that she performed in honor of the supermoon that hung high in the sky that night. Although she sounded great, few in the audience were familiar with the B-side to "Hollywood" so it was hard to connect to song.
But that show low immediately turned into a sky high with the closing number that had everyone out of their seats. Naturally, Chaka ended with her anthem "I'm Every Woman" backed by a choir of the hundreds in attendance who were all dancing in the aisles by the song's end. With everyone already on their feet, a standing ovation was in order as Chaka took a bow and exited stage right. Raucous applause and "Encore! Encore!" chants followed, and she graciously obliged us with a return to the stage to funk us up with "Ain't Nobody." The entire theatre was so pumped up by "Ain't Nobody" that no one wanted to leave even as Chaka had already left the stage for the last time and the house lights came up. Shocked submission -- now that's the sign of an excellent show.
Chaka Khan is no slouch as a live performer; she typically delivers on stage like many of her contemporaries still going strong. But this was honestly the best that she has sounded live in years. One could attribute this to her new health and fitness routine and impressive weight loss. Chaka's voice was strong and clear, and her ability to breathe and hold notes has definitely been affected for the positive. Or it could simply be a matter of her being the consummate performer that she is. In an industry that is constantly on the hunt for the next young thing, artists like Chaka Khan continue to prove that there's no school like the old school.