Live Last Night: Ashford and Simpson

Royalty checks are sweet, but there's no substitute for applause. At the Birchmere on Sunday, husband and wife hit machine Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson soaked in their fans' love live while reclaiming some of the finest pop-soul tunes ever written.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

"The great thing about being a songwriter," Simpson said, "is that you can take a song back."

And during their 90-minute set, she and Ashford -- who began writing hits for other folks in the mid-1960s -- took a whole lot back.

They took "The Boss" back from Diana Ross, who hit the charts with the Ashford/Simpson disco number in 1979.

They took "I'm Every Woman" both from Chaka Khan, who released it as a single in 1978, and Whitney Houston, who recorded the song for her mega-platinum "Bodyguard" soundtrack in 1992.

And they took back a gaggle of classic hits they'd written for Tammi Terrell and D.C.'s own Marvin Gaye: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Heaven Must Have Sent You," "You're All I Need to Get By" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing."

Ashford told the crowd his songwriting career took off as soon as he stopped trying to "be so deep." He then performed "Let's Go Get Stoned," a drinking anthem that Ray Charles recorded in 1966, giving Ashford and Simpson their first hit as a writing team. (Yet for all its shallow roots, "Let's Go Get Stoned" sure seems to be the inspiration for Bob Dylan's ode to a different kind of stoneage: "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.")

Ashford and Simpson started a performing career long after they were established as songwriting geniuses. But they're both stage pros, too. Simpson, 62, sported a black miniskirt and didn't try to hide all the sweat she worked up while boogieing with her husband -- the best steps came with a spurt of dirty (and not-at-all creaky) dancing during the soul scorcher "Is It Still Good to Ya?"

Ashford, 66, took off his coat at the show's midway point to let off a little steam, revealing a sheer, sequined shirt that looked like something he borrowed from Simpson's wardrobe. Only a very secure man would wear such a blouse. Ashford can pull it off.

He showed off the strut he perfected on the streets of Harlem early in his career, and kept reminding the crowd how long he and Simpson had been together and how it is, well, still good to him. Between most songs, he threw sweet, salacious compliments her way, yet never came off as tacky.

"Look at that!" he said as his wife waltzed past him.

And listen to that, too.

-- DAVE MCKENNA

By J. Freedom du Lac |  March 9, 2009; 1:30 PM ET Live Last Night
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Solid. Solid as a rock.

Usher, get off my lawn.

Posted by: cjbmo | March 9, 2009 2:32 PM

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