Sunday, November 20, 2011

DOLLY PARTON Adelaide Ent Cent 21 nov 2011


Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Sat 12 Nov 2011.

The Adelaide Entertainment Centre is bursting at the seams with people in cowboy hats, Daisy Duke cut off jeans and one tattooed gal in leather bondage gear and a whip (I didn’t ask). It is obvious that the appeal of Dolly Parton crosses all age barriers, economic groups, sexual preferences and musical styles. It had been twenty four years since the Queen of country music was last in Australia and everybody is very excited.

The lights go down and in the darkness Dolly starts singing an a Capella refrain from Light of a Clear Blue Day the current single of her latest CD Better Day, the curtains part and there she is! Wearing a sequined red outfit with so many sparkles on it you could see it from Mars and the place goes nuts as band kicks into Walking on Sunshine the 1983 hit by Katrina & The Waves. Well I wasn’t expecting that! It’s great actually; Dolly is all over the stage and sounding fantastic. It’s not the only surprise song choice tonight, but it’s a great start to the evening’s entertainment. Baby I’m Burning is fantastic and followed closely by the classic Jolene. Throughout the night many of the songs are introduced by Dolly telling stories and making gags at her own expense. It takes three songs before she makes her first boob joke. Donning a banjo for a selection of bluegrass numbers she mentions how heavy it is and ‘That’s how I built up my chest'. Usually the arrival of a banjo on a concert stage would have me running for the nearest exit but I love this group of songs including Rocky Top Tennessee, Duelling Banjos and Muleskinner Blues. Her band is incredible, crack Nashville session guys many of whom have been working with Dolly for decades. The harmonies are breathtaking and the musicianship is superb. Her gospel roots are evident in Shine (originally by Collective Soul) and strangely on her version of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven (I swear I am not making this up). There’s more old school country with My Tennessee Mountain Home and a glorious a Capella version of Precious Memories including a funny moment when a moth fly’s into her spotlight where she sang a little grab of Butterfly.

With a career spanning over forty years Dolly, she has hits in country music, pop charts and even went disco for a bit, it’s not like she’s short on hits. The early days her music was straight ahead country music and when she started to have hits with songs like the next song in the set Coat of Many Colours, she was still a struggling singer songwriter. She dedicates it to her mother and as she sings it tonight in a single spotlight, accompanying herself beautifully on an autoharp, it is clear that is has become a timeless classic. It’s a spine chilling, goosebump making performance. The end of the first set is mostly from the new album, Better Day, Together You and I and Holding On To Everything. She talks about her movies and the latest, Joyful Noise in which she co-stars with rap star Queen Latifah. She does a little rap number about her co-star and it’s quite funny. She ends the first half with He’s Everything from the same film.

After a short break and a costume change Dolly returns and dons a guitar for White Limozeen and Two Doors Down. Little Sparrow is another highlight and met by rapturous applause. After Better Get to Livin’ (from 2007) we are in the home stretch. Here You Come Again has everybody singing but it takes Islands in the Stream to finally get people on their feet. People are dancing in the aisles and having a great time waving their cowboy hats around. “Well,” says Dolly, “..while you are up, we better do this one!” and they band starts playing 9 to 5 and now everybody is going a bit crazy, singing and dancing along with Dolly. It is really great fun.

She returns and apologises she hasn‘t played I Will Always Love You. A massive hit not only for herself but for Whitney Houston in 1992, but if legend is correct Dolly denied permission for Elvis Presley to record because his manager Col Tom Parker was demanding half the publishing rights. Smart move Dolly. It’s a fantastic way to finish a terrific concert.

It does have to be said that Dolly Parton has always been up front about her act appearing better than the reality by any means necessary. She is a great believer in the smoke and mirrors of show business. She’s been surgically enhanced. She wears wigs and acrylic nails. I think it is also safe to say that Ms Parton wasn’t actually doing all the things on stage tonight that she appeared to be doing. At sixty five years old I guess you can’t expect her to be singing live and dancing at the same time and after some of those more enthusiastic songs she was note perfect while ‘singing’ and dancing but puffing and out of breath when the song finished. It would be almost impossible to play most of the instruments she appeared to play with those nails. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. They call it show business for a reason. And it was a fantastic show. It had razzle dazzle, it had hits, and it had camp. Dolly looked great, her stories and interaction with the audience were occasionally a little ‘hokey’, but it was perfectly in line with her whole image and reputation.

And a full house of 10,000 people absolutely LOVED every single second of it. Spending almost two and a half hours with one of the all time great entertainers added up to one of the concerts of the year.

Dolly we always love you.

Ian Bell.


Before this show I had been asking myself a question that seems to crop up more and more these days: is it worth going to see a legendary band, when the most legendary bits are missing? Would you go and see _The Revolution without Prince? Is it worth going to a show by The Experience without Jimi Hendrix? The Attractions with no Elvis Costello? Sometimes, the answer in a resounding NO. For many acts touring under a legendary banner, the missing element is often the crucial one that elevated something average to something special. The danger is that you end up with a cover band that just happens to have some original members in it.

But in other circumstances the power and momentum of an audiences love for an artist and their music propels a gig into a celebration more like a big huggy joyfest. And that is very much the case at tonight’s show by The Family Stone.

Sly & The Family Stone are legends and innovators of funk and soul. Along with James Brown they were architects of a music that took Rn’B and Soul music, sexed it up and gave birth to the funk. Sly Stone created a sound with his Family Stone (notably with bass player Larry Graham, who created the ‘slap’ bass sound) that combined the sounds of Motown, Stax, British Invasion pop, Psych-rock, Broadway musicals, Gospel and positive lyrical messages you could dance to. And people tonight have come to dance.

Sly Stone doesn’t tour much these days. He spent time in jail on cocaine possession charges and has led what some call a ‘difficult’ life in the last couple of decades. However, word is he is currently working on an new album with an all-star band to be released next year so who knows what will happen in the future.

Originally booked to play the 1,200 capacity HQ, the show had been shifted to the tiny 200 capacity Rocket Bar, which seemed a crazy move for a band of such legend. But as a friend suggested on the night, people either don’t know who they really are or we really do live in a backwater. So things were going to get snug with wall to wall hipsters, standing disinterestedly around waiting for the funk to happen.

With the fact that the opening act is the explosive Hypnotic Brass Ensemble whose previous visits to Adelaide had been slaying a massive crowd at Womadelaide and as part of last year’s fantastic gig by Gorillaz, I would have imagined they could pulled a crowd this big on their own. If you haven’t caught this eight piece, funky as hell horn section yet, what the hell are you doing with your days? The line-up is a kick-ass drummer and seven brass players who dance, swing, sway and get half undressed while sounding like hippest marching band on the planet. Their set is short but sweet, despite the mix being way to loud for the room and the vocal mic sounding like it was not up to the task. There was quite a lot of plugging the CD they were selling, but great energy, great fun and they certainly did an awesome job of warming up the crowd.

A fairly quick change over and The Family Stone hit the stage, ready to rock the house no matter how small the room is. The tiny Rocket stage meant there was no room for keyboards on it, so they set up on the floor in front of the DJ set up. This sadly meant that all but the very front row missed one of the best parts of the show by not being able to see Alex Davis. As the main vocalist and a great performer, he has a beaming smile, and spent the show high five-ing people, and vibeing it up. So it’s a shame that 97% of the room never saw him. Not that there was a lack of things to watch on the stage. Everybody was moving and grooving, even the three original members (all in their sixties), all a blur of colour and dance. Drummer Greg Errico laid down a funky groove while saxman Jerry Martini wailed away. But the star of the show was Cynthia Robinson on trumpet; what a cool woman. Sixty five years old, kicking ass with a funk band. She was awesome!

They were not messing about with the set list either, which was wall-to-wall their best known songs. Dance to The Music, Hot Fun In the Summertime and It’s A Family Affair came in the first fifteen minutes. Davis introduced Underdog from the 1967 A Whole New Thing album, dedicating it to the Occupy movement. For a song that is over forty years old, it still packs quite a punch.

Of the ‘new’ members of the band, Nate Washington (guitar) was a blur of fingers and effects pedals while attractive vocalist Trina Johnson set some hearts racing and played up to the photographers. Bass player Blaise Sison had some big shoes to fill. Larry Grahams distinctive style and pure funkiness are easily replicated, but Blaise slapped the hell out of that thing and pulled the whole she-bang up to another level. If You Want Me to Stay and M’Lady were next and people were dancing on seats and tables trying to get a better view.

The band took us home with I Wanna Take You Higher, Everyday People, and Thank You. Many of the songs were transformed into great extended jams and the response from the audience was genuine and euphoric. There were some songs I’d like to have heard they didn’t include Stand for one, and I can understand why they skipped Don’t Call Me Nigger Whitey which could be considered a little inappropriate these days.

As with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the mix was actually painfully loud at times and the DJ seemed to kick in with a undignified haste while they were taking their bows. But those minor quibbles aside Adelaide had just been well and truly funked.