It had been a long time since stage and music star Stephanie Mills brought her show to St. Louis. She proved worth the wait from the start with her up-tempo 1980s hit, “Never Knew Love Like This.”
“We didn’t come here to play with y’all, St. Louis,” Mills said later in the show after powering through her biggest hits with precision and in pristine form as she opened for The O’Jays Saturday night before a packed house at The Fabulous Fox.
She looked great. She sounded even better – which is not always the case for recording stars who have mostly stayed out of the spotlight. She was happy to show off that she still has the voice and the moves that made her a star as the original Dorothy in the classic musical “The Wiz,” nearly 45 years ago.
“I’m 62 years old, y’all,” Mills said after bouncing back and forth across the stage nonstop high impact tracks, “What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’” and “A Rush on Me.”
There wasn’t a hint of rust as she moved her hips and hit the high notes that she’s known for even though she doesn’t hit the road regularly. St. Louis fans learned why.
“I come out and play when I can, but my first priority is my son,” Mills said before introducing Farad Mills to the crowd. He had a special seat on the side of the stage where he played tambourine and clapped along to the music before heading backstage. She beamed when talking about Farad, who has Down Syndrome, and the fact that he had just written a new book entitled, “The Adventures of Farad.”
Mills made up for lost time with her performance Saturday. Fans got the best of the dance music and the ballads – which included a shout-out to St. Louis’ own Angela Winbush for writing “Power of Love,” a song that Mills admitted was her favorite song within her catalog of hits to sing live.
She paid tribute to her duet partner, the late Teddy Pendergrass, with “Two Hearts” and “Feel The Fire” and allowed for an expanded tribute via her background singers that paid additional homage to Pendergrass, along with Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross.
Mills returned to the stage with a tribute of her own. “We just lost the greatest singer of all time,” Mills said before diving into a mashup of Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me” and “Dr. Feelgood.” A stellar rendition of “Home” from “The Wiz” served as her finale.
After a longer break between acts than usual for The Fox, The O’Jays opened their show with “Give The People What They Want,” and went on to do exactly that.
Hits like “Darling Baby,” “I Love Music” and “Living For The Weekend” had fans dancing in their seats as the R&B trio performed their signature choreography. The Fox quickly felt like a blue light basement party as Walter Williams and Eddie LeVert – distinct, but equally legendary R&B voices in their own right – got into songs like “Forever Mine,” “Let Me Make Love to You,” and “Stairway to Heaven.”
The energy on both sides of the stage erupted when they jumped into “Love Train,” which included video footage of the trio performing on the famed music television program “Soul Train.” The audience’s response to the song was so overwhelming, that the O’Jays performed the song all over again in its entirety.
The moment felt like a finale, but O’Jays had another act up the sleeves of their bedazzled red suits. They shouted-out St. Louis for showing love to them from the very start of their 60-plus years as a group – and even gave mention to legendary radio personality Doctor Jockenstein – while powering through a medley of their lesser known hits, including “I Got You,” “Message in our Music,” “You Got The Hooks In Me” and “Feelings.”
They also reminded fans that the Third World platinum hit, “Now That We’ve Found Love” was an O’Jays original.
Performances of “Back Stabbers,” “Used Ta Be My Girl” and “For The Love of Money” rounded out the lengthy performance that never lost its steam.