"This Amoeba thing is getting to be very catchy," said Houston from the stage of her SF in-store appearance. (She was referring to her other appearance earlier in the year at the Hollywood store.)
The 61-year-old daughter of a Southern cotton farmer turned disco diva is touring in support of her new CD, A Woman's Touch, which is a mix of covers from people like Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and Sting. Houston explained to the crowd why all of the songs that she sang were originally done by men, and not women, considering the name of her record: "Once Gladys, Chaka, or Aretha record a song," she said, "you don't need to go there!"
The audience was loaded with old queens (this being SF, after all), all there to pay homage to the woman who sang one of the top ten disco songs of all time, "Don't Leave Me This Way."
But besides being a disco icon, Houston is also an accomplished stage actress, and it showed in her delivery. She came out to the platform dressed like Tina Turner, in a tight tunic and leggings, with a shock of neatly dredded hair in a ponytail cascading around her. She placed a top hat upon her head, which had gigantic feathers dripping off of it. "This is my good luck thing," she joked, "my good voodoo spirit."
Accompanied only by a backing track and a microphone, she lit into her first song, "Wake Up," and then into an Al Green cover, "Love and Happiness." Before she sang it, she told the crowd a story about Al Green, and how she and a certain male friend of hers both had a crush on him in the '70s. "[This was] before the grits," she joked, referring to Green's run in with the law, a hot pot of porridge, and his woman's back.
The story was entertaining, but also illuminated the fact that she wasn't just a gay icon, but had in fact been friends with gay people all of her life. "Some of my best friends are gay!" she could've been saying. The crowd ate it up.
Perhaps to underscore the point even more, she introduced her next song by saying that it was originally performed by someone who she loved and dearly missed. Then the opening beats for a "Disco Heat/Mighty Real" medley came through the sound system, and we knew she was talking about Sylvester. You can't get much gayer than that! She rocked it, too, and at this point a small line of dancers started shakin' it in front of the stage while the rest of the pack clapped.
Finally it was time for her signature song, one that frankly I was finding it hard to believe that she could still sing. I mean, what if you had to sing the same song for thirty years, always having to act like it was the first time? But dang, she gave it her all. From the very opening strains where she merely says "Mmmmmmm, oooohh…" it was like she was feeling it deep inside, man. Wow. Once the bass started up (which, being one of the best parts of the song, unfortunately wasn't as strong as the original recording) the whole place was moving. "Don't leave me this way, I can't survive. Can't stay alive, without your love…"
Truer words were never spoken, but Houston found plenty of love here in SF. And to quote another disco hit, she will survive.
–Katy St. Clair