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.