|Fierce. Funny. Loving. Playful. Emotive. Confident. Relaxed. All of these words would describe the concert that Donna gave tonight at the Pala Casino near Temecula, CA.
Having no intention of chasing another "greatest hits" concert, a friend of mine surprised me with an early birthday present to see my "idol." And after reading some of the reviews from the Reno concert, I suddenly felt energized and excited to see what was up. So we made our way from near Laguna Beach south towards San Diego. After we exited the 5 Freeway and began our trek on this narrow and winding, two-lane country road, I had little hopes of much of a turnout on a Monday evening in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I was wrong! Suddenly there was this HUGE casino (at least it seemed huge in this dark oasis) with all of the glittery lights and a fair number of Monday night gamblers.
Cut to the concert (after pigging out on the all-you-can-eat buffet), we filed into what was more or less a huge banquet hall that was already more crowded than I had expected. The stage was adorned by, I would guess, a 12-piece orchestra, plus three brass, a drummer, a percussionist and two guitar players to be joined by Bruce, Mary and another back-up singer—the biggest ensemble I have ever seen support Donna. Scheduled to start at 7:30, the lights dimmed at about 7:45 or a little later and the intro medley began. Not exactly the most uproarious crowd I've ever seen, (more of a typical casino crowd) there was a fair number of "fans" in the audience—again, more than I had anticipated. All in all, a near sellout.
Donna began with Could it be Magic (a curious opener in my opinion), when the voice quickly overcame the bustling room and people were suddenly transfixed on this legend center stage. Dressed in her tuxedo suit, she looks pretty much what we have come to know as of late. Although she is quite heavy, her face was radiant and beautiful. Paired with the voice, I knew that this was going to be a magical experience. (This is only my seventh time to see her unlike some of you have have logged double-digit concerts.) I don't remember the exact song order, but I believe that after she kindly greeted the audience, she dove into Dim All the Lights. By now if you've read the Reno accounts, you know the song listing. So here are the highlights.
"Smile." Oh my God! This would make the most ardent dance fan beg Donna to do a standards album. Trust me. It was a tour-de-force. It will be a crime if she does not record this song.
"Mac Arthur Park." MY ALL-time favorite song. My friend next to me was just shaking his head, "How does she do it?" Amazing and effortless—absolutely no straining to hit ANY of the notes and hold them. Tonight's version made the Live and More Encore version pale by comparison. Or, for that matter, any previous rendition I've heard except the studio recording.
"My Man Medley." All you had to do was close your eyes, and I swear, it was 1978, Live and More all over again. You know how we all hear that Donna's voice has aged and deepened? You'd never know by listening to her rendition of these three classics. They were probably even better than on the live recording—not kidding. I heard several comments around me, "what a voice!" "I can't believe her voice!" etc., etc..
"Happy Birthday." To all of the people celebrating birthdays—three of them were brought on stage after a near riot of birthday folks rushing to the stage to join Donna. Literally, the security guys were telling Donna to stop egging them on. After that, she segued into On The Radio.
"Con te Partiro." OK. Some guy yells out something, and Donna says, "The jelly song? What's the jelly song?" She deduced that he was asking her to sing the Andrea Boccelli song. And after begging off, she started singing (in Italian) the ballad version. The band glided in, and the audience fell quiet. Although she couldn't remember the whole song, it was great just to hear a few bars. What a welcome surprise!
"Georgia on My Mind." Soulful. Somewhat restrained. Her eyes closed for most of the song—I think Ray woulda been touched as well as Jaime Foxx. What a plug for the film! Again, people were stunned.
"No More Tears." Probably my least favorite Donna hit; I have to give props to Mary (I think it was Mary looking trim with straight, long hair). She rivaled Donna on this one. You could tell that people didn't know who she was, but were blown away by her pipes. She sounded more like Donna than I have ever heard before.
"Cold Love." I do completely believe that now ALL things are possible! I would have never guessed that I would EVER get to hear what is one of my top five favorite Donna songs, live. She intro'd it by saying that she set out trying to win Grammys in every category and that she had won six—one for best rock performance. (Is it just our little secret that she's only won five? Let's not tell her. Or, am I wrong?) Anyway, I was in bliss. I coulda lived without the horns on this one, but she was having so much fun. I've never seen her have so much fun—the whole night. She actually seemed like she was really enjoying this entire set. She was very fresh except on She Works Hard for the Money.
"Hot Stuff." After giving Bad Girls the Divas 2000 update, the band segued into the all too familiar romp. I have never seen Donna, since say, the AMAs in '81 give such a salacious and playful rendition. I would think
Bruce might get jealous of the guitar player! She and the band really milked it.
"Try Me..." Just hearing the band start that intro, I felt like I was in a dream. And yes, she sang it breathy and all. The band absolutely nailed the arrangement. It sounded like a mixture of the original recording and the Live and More version.
"I Feel Love." I don't know—something came over me, love I guess, and suddenly, I was dancing with some girl in front of our row—swaying our bodies and hands. It was Live and More all over again. (At this point, I don't think the audience thought there was anything left for Donna to do...)
"Love to Love You Baby." Yes. Hell did freeze over again. This song is now probably more of a spectacle just for the sake of being a spectacle. It's just more than bizarre to hear this song playing live with Donna playing to the crowd. Devoid of any real sensuality—as previously stated; Donna makes this more of a love-the-crowd anthem. I think she did coo a little bit here and there. I have to really give her props for dusting this off and giving it a more proper context for who she is now. I mean it would be ridiculous to see her at 55, moaning and humping a mic stand.
After (about) and hour and 45 minutes, she ended with Last Dance—by far the longest Donna concert I've witnessed.
Overall, there were times when you'd look at her, and you realize how much time has passed. You realize all of the ups and downs—the joys, the disappointments, the setbacks. You realize how much time has passed in your own life. You realize how many people have come and gone. You look at her face. You hear the voice. You close your eyes, and she takes you to another place—where it's still magic and we're all still very much alive and so much more...
Russ (stolen right off the Endless Summer board)
PS: She said, "I'll see you next year..."