|Here's my insanely long and rambling review.... Not expecting many of you to make it to the end :P (Cathy if you want you can post it on your site--sorry it's so long. Hopefully Tommy will upload some of his many pics too)
My thoughts are understandably a bit scattered and all over the place, but I'll try to make this review as coherent as possible. (This is a pretty rambling review and you might wanna just skip down a few paragraphs to the show part itself...)
Aug 8 was my mom's 60th birthday, something I didn't remember when I suggested taking her to the concert way back in April when tickets went on sale (seems like ages ago). She's a Donna fan but, ironically, because of me, and how much I played her growing up--she wasn't aware of her in the 70s (too busy starting a family and other trivial stuff for disco I suppose). So we left Victoria to catch the ferry to Vancouver at around noon that day, the weather beautiful and hot, With traffic and everything we pulled up to River Rock Casino, in the ugly Vancouver suburb of Richmond, at about four.
I'd never been to River Rock before, and I'm not into casinos, but I have to admit it's a very nice place. Right on the water, you almost forget you're so close to the industrial part of town. It's large, with a boardwalk, two towers of hotels (they're building a third), and then the restaurants, casinos, spa, and theatre. The whole place is less than 5 years old. Because it can be a pain to get into Downtown Vancouver from Richmond, we were staying at the casino anyway and ended up with a nice sized suite on the second last floor. We ended up actually ordering in room service, and the man who served it told us excitedly that he had earlier served Donna Summer and that she was very nice, one of the nicest performers to ever stay at the hotel (Diana Ross was there 2 months back... Not that I'm implying anything...). My mom jokingly asked if he could tell us her room number and all he'd say was that we were in the same tower as her. Well that made it pretty obvious--directly above us was the penthouse, so it was no big secret what room she'd be in. He also said that she had been there for a day already, just relaxing--this was her first night after a short 10 day break in the tour, I know.
I admit I was pretty nervous to see Donna Summer for my first time--I never really thought I'd ever get the chance to. I've read a lot of the reviews of other performances on this tour so knew what to expect, but my heart sank a bit after reading so many complaints about casino crowds not getting into her shows, and so on. Well, none of that bore any truth here.
The theatre is pretty small, a smallish stage, and the audience seats are very steeply raked--this combined with the fact that the theatre only seats 950 or so meant that everywhere had a good seat. Our seats were in the fourth row, right on the middle aisle--and I don't think they could have been better--we were level with the stage (the seats further in the front were actually a bit under the stage so, sitting, wouldn't give you as good a view). The crowd was probably what I expected--middle aged gay men, many in large groups, lots of straight women and quite a few couples, as well as a few guys my age, for the most part. I bumped into a couple of people I knew and also met up with Tommy and Jake--online friends who I hadn't met before but knew were coming (Tommy runs the great Disco Delivery blog and had traveled from Calgary for the show). I'm not used to going to casino theatres so it was exciting to be able to buy a drink and bring it IN with you, not having to down it in the lobby.
The show started about 15 minutes late. During this time the theatre played synth, vocal-less selections from Giorgio Moroder's Cat People and Metropolis soundtracks. I thought this was pretty cool since you have the Donna connection, but people who didn't know the music wouldn't be distracted by a different vocalist. Cat People is a really moody/spooky score though, so it was a bit of an odd fit but one I appreciated�I thought maybe another Moroder score that�s a bit more upbeat like American Gigolo might have fit better but of course that score is all based around Call Me so it might confuse people. Some in the crowd had started clapping and chanting out Donna by this point and finally the band came on stage.
OK I'm finally at the show itself, lol. I don't quite remember the order of songs, so I'm going off the set lists people have printed for other dates, and some of the order might be wrong. It was amazing just being so close to that stage--it really felt like everyone was performing directly for you, and there was a lot of audience/stage interaction that you just can't have in an arena. The Queen is Back was a great opening and everyone stood up when she came on, giving a big standing ovation. I was a bit worried because the microphone mix seemed a bit off--you could hear Donna's three backup singers better than you could hear Donna for most of the song, and Donna herself seemed slightly hesitant. As soon as the song was over this seemed to be immediately fixed, and I have to say Donna sounded outstanding for the rest of the night. I knew she could still sing, but hearing her live, song after song, was something I wasn't prepared by especially after her lacklustre recent televised performances on The Today Show, etc.
The whole staging of the show is really well thought out--from entrances, when to use the three boy dancers (who were mainly excellent, even though a few times you could tell they had to scale back some things for the tiny stage) and those projections/screens. I think this is the first time Donna used screens and, while they've become something of a clich� in pop concerts, they nearly all worked great. Never distracting from the performance but always adding to the mood. The whole look of the show was almost like an intimate, miniature version of a big Kylie or Madonna show. Even the song order felt very natural and smooth. (Donna's entrance purple dress has, thanks to TMZ, been a bit controversial lately. Personally, I loved it--I'm glad she's wearing something a bit over the top and flashy, she didn't seem concerned about her weight but I still thought it looked good, and it makes a much more exciting entrance than her recent favourite look--charcoal black pant suits).
Trying to have a few comments about each song--I Feel Love came immediately after Queen is Back, and was a smart move as it instantly got the people less familiar with her new material into the flow of the show. I did find one weird thing with the staging--she ends Queen is Back going back on the revolving panel that she came in on--and then enters for I Feel Love just on the side of the stage. It felt strange to me and unneeded--I woulda have had her stay on stage and maybe leave by the panel again either when she was leaving for her first costume change or at the end of the show. As it played out you had the panel turn back, her leave, the panel turn forward with no one on it and THEN finally her casually walking onstage from the side...
I think by I Feel Love (which was good live I felt even if I could have happily had it go on another 3 minutes, I'm glad it's back in her regular set) she really felt the love and excitement from the audience. She then made her audience small talk, asking where people were from, a few times jokingly acting scared of how forceful the audience was (constantly shouting out "We Love You!" etc). She mentioned that she had been in Vancouver before, one time recording with "Vancouver's own" David Foster (who's actually from my hometown of Victoria but no matter)--I wondered if this was for Whenever There is Love in the mid 90s, Power of One for the Pokemon soundtrack, or if it was in the late 80s for those infamous vault recordings she did with him? Then she said how her husband had a cousin in Vancouver she had always intended to try to look up, and earlier that day she was getting her nails done in the spa when the lady doing them asked if she knew a friend of hers by this name--turned out it was her cousin. We then got the standard Donna concert speeches--if we felt like dancing, singing, we should do it, and not worry about anyone else if they weren't having a good time.
Dim All the Lights is a song that I've recently started to really love again, and while I was a bit disappointed that she sang it starting immediately into the disco/dance section (no slow opening), it went over great live. I did notice one small screw up--during the "Turn my brown body white" bits near the end the first time she says it Donna ended the bit with "Come on dim all the lights", which isn't sang till the SECOND time, then looked briefly confused I saw her glance over at the music director, they then went into the second time where she sang "Come on dim all the lights" again. OK something I don't think anyone else even noticed but it was kinda cute to see her look briefly flustered. Then I had my first minor disappointment--knowing that this was a casino show, with no intermission, I knew we'd get the slightly shorter set list, but Con Te Partiro is a favourite of mine and I hoped we'd get it. We didn't, but there wasn't enough time for me to get seriously bummed out by that.
She introduced her next song as being from her new album which got a LOT of applause and call outs from the audience, something that genuinely seemed to surprise and take her aback. When she said I'm a Fire another round of applause took off. I have to admit I was wondering if we'd get I'm a Fire or Drivin' Down Brazil, which is sometimes performed here instead. Not sure what makes her decide which to do, but, as much as Brazil is one of my fave songs on the new CD, if I had to choose between the two to see live, Fire wins out. And she didn't disappoint--the performance was electric, great projections, and Donna couldn't stop grinning while performing, she seemed truly into it. Great to hear the full version of the song even with the Spanish--she then left the stage while the backup singers and dancers came on and vamped the song further while she changed. While the audience was still sitting for this song (for the most part--a few die hards were standing scattered around) it really was a big hit, with everyone dancing in their chairs, clapping, etc.
Section two started with her coming out in the red Summer dress, with sandals, chatted a bit, mentioned how the projected image was of the view form her home in Florida. OK Sand at My Feet was one of my least fave songs when the CD came out, and while it's kinda grown on me since then it would have never been one of my picks for the concert--but I admit it was really lovely live, and came as a nice respite after Fire. Great vocals, and laid back vibe. This outfit of hers really isn't done justice in the photographs people have taken. It probably was my favourite outfit of the night.
Next, a fave song of mine and, I think, my mom's absolute fave, On the Radio, with the audience singing the "Whoa oh ohs". As can be expected by now the audience REALLY got into that... We also got a bit longer instrumental break than I expected--anyway it was a highlight. Next Donna asked if we had those iPod commercials in Canada (of course we do, sheesh) and how they led her to write this new song. As the giant "iDon" props came out she went on about us being taken over by technology and started talking in a computer voice about how it was even taking over her, doing robot movements. OK, cheesy yes but definitely cute. Mr Music isn't a fave of mine but it was *great* live, the whole staging with the two dancers making silhouettes like those commercials behind the iPods and the one playing DJ at the top--Donna also seemed to be having a blast. Then after a brief explanation of why call it Crayons (with typical Donna Summer silly explanations about discovering "the wall" etc etc) the iDons morphed into crayon boxes and we were into the title track (the dancers had rainbow belts on, which I guess suits the song but I couldn't help wondering if Donna and all were aware they were pride belts...). The song has quickly gone from a song I thought I'd hate (Donna doing reggae? I hate reggae, and HATED her last attempt, Unconditional Love so wasn't expecting much) to be maybe my fave song on the album and it went over great live, with Donna being even a little saucy dancing with the dancers, etc. She then left the stage again to change while the dancers and backup singers took over, doing dance tricks, getting the audience to sing along, jumping out and dancing in the audience (one way too excited late middle aged woman seemed to be grinding with one of the dancers in the aisle). I guess this is where the intermission takes place when she does theatre venues.
No intermission here--immediately we got Donna in her rain jacket and umbrella, with great rain projections for No More Tears. Her sister Mary (who's one of the backup singers) came out to join her and during the slow intro while holding the final note Donna started making ridiculous faces with her lips (maybe trying to lightly mock Barbra? I think Donna was singing Barbra's section of the original recording--something she seems to usually do now) which cracked Mary up which then cracked Donna up so much she had a few failed attempts to keep her breath and jump back in the song. Very cute. Then the beat kicked in and the audience got on their feet--I always kinda forget how beloved the song is. Some have complained about the live arrangement of the song--I felt it sounded fine, but I do wish it had been a bit longer and they had kept the great breakdown section in the original recording the "nooooo more tears" etc with the instruments vamping and the plucked strings--I really missed that. Still great, and immediately after we got what was maybe my highlight, at least of the old songs, with lightning striking on the screens and those famous chords of MacArthur Park starting. Ok I admit, this much ridiculed song is an absolute disco fave of mine--I love the Jimmy Webb original, anyway, but Donna's version is definitely, while maybe cliche to say, on my desert island disco discs selection. And I guess I'm not alone, by the time the disco beat kicked in everyone was on their feet--even the few I had noticed not standing before. My mom actually jumped up before me (she later said she realized that she couldn't sit still during probably her only chance to ever have Donna sing MacArthur Park less than 20 feet in front of her!). Hahah anyway absolutely stunning--I have to admit during the *long* orchestral break I had a mini freak out thinking that Donna was going to do what she does sometimes and drop or shorten my favourite part of the whole song--the bridge
("There'll be another song for me..."). I should have never doubted her, she sang the full thing brilliantly.
Donna took off her jacket, revealing the corset to much whooping and applause by the audience (she made another joke then and started to sing a bit of "Whatever you want it, wherever you need it..." I was always surprised whenever Donna would do something kinda sexy or suggestive--near the end especially she was even doing hip thrusts, and other craziness lol--I loved it). Then we got the dancers coming on for the beyond cheesy football sketch. LOL Let's just say that their football uniforms looked more like too big pyjamas on their skinny bodies than any football player I�ve seen--and we broke into Stamp Your Feet. I thought it worked REALLY well live--I was never too impressed with the TV performances of it and I know I've heard mixed things about it in the tour but maybe they tweaked the instrumentation of it or I was just won over by the performance by all on stage, but it really carried over well live. Donna disappeared while the boys finished their dance, and then Mary came back on stage to introduce us to Hattie Mae and Hattie Mae Blanche Dubois' place. LOL This is the kinda thing Donna does that I admit is beyond ridiculous but she kinda won me over with--the song (sung in character as "Hattie Mae" on Crayons) is probably the one song that divides audiences the most--I'm never quite sure what I think of it myself. But Slide over Backwards did go over well live--the band really got into it with lots of improvising (the long harmonica solo) the dancers and backup singers also playing a big part. It went over surprisingly well, and I think Donna in her ridiculous hat was having a blast. She then introduced her sister, with a string of about 15 names (after which Mary said "yeah but that's just my middle name!") both seemed to be having fun. I think she should have been more clear that Mary was her sister--but while Donna changed, we got Mary's up-tempo gospel song, from her album, Selah. It was good, she has a wonderful voice, I admit the audience was I
think a bit impatient for more Donna by that point, and I didn't envy Mary, but it didn't stop the flow of the concert at all, and got a pretty good reaction in the end.
Then Donna was back in a new outfit for She Works Hard for the Money. Never a huge fave of mine, the audience loved it, and you couldn't keep the audience down. She introduced the band and dancers, and the whole audience was into it.
OK I think this may have taken place before Slide over Backwards, but I'm not quite sure... Either way, at SOME point, Donna Summer went into a speech about looking in a mirror, seeing someone she didn't recognize, etc, and then sat down and broke into Be Myself Again (complete with perfect projections of a city skyline at night). I admit, when we didn't get Con Te Partiro, I expected Again to be dropped as well as it often is, and while I've never been quite as in love with the ballad from her new album as many people are, it was absolutely stunning live--the audience was completely into every moment of it. So I was really pleased she decided to perform it.
Anyway back to the order of the songs I do remember... We now got the ubiquitous Bad Girls/hot Stuff medley (it's interesting that she always sings these songs now in the opposite order than the album). Nothing mind blowing, but by then Donna was so into the show as was the audience (all standing) it barely mattered. She also was a bit raunchy during both songs, with Bad Girls having an intro with the dancers coming on to the backup singers (the white dancer with the crew-cut trying to pick up Donna--very cute).
My mind's a bit fuzzy around then lol. Anyway Donna made her bows, saying goodbye (suspicious as she hadn't sung Last Dance... ;-p and left the stage. The band all faked that they were leaving but no one fell for it ;-p
Donna came out in one last costume change and the familiar opening of Last Dance started. I have to say, while we all expected this, her voice was in particularly stunning on the song. Perfection. As soon as the beat kicked in the audience rushed to the front of the stage too--much to the upset of the security guards (who had managed to keep them away from it for most of the night) who just gave in. Yes she did the much hated by fans "Ain't I worth a dime a dance" spoken bit but I have to admit by that point I was so won over I found everything she did cute and perfect. During this part a group of older women started reaching up to shake hands with Donna and then it got out of control with everyone wanting to grab her hand till finally she had to gesture for them all to stop. Anyway and then, sadly, it was all over.
So the concert finished at almost exactly ten (I heard someone say that that was the time casino shows had to end also unless they wanted to pay the crew for overtime--maybe another reason there was no intermission and Con Te was dropped). I hope I gave some impression of the concert--it was a perfect first time seeing Donna. I admit I wish, besides getting Con Te, that I we had gotten one or two more lesser known disco gems--I woulda been bowled over by Could it Be magic, Spring Affair or I Love You from my beloved Once Upon a Time album--songs I know in past tours she has sung. That said I'm glad this was my first tour seeing Donna in many ways--it was great so see her so *into* every song--I think having a new album and songs to sing rubbed off even on the songs she's sung hundreds of times. It also was a long show--she was on stage longer, than for example Cher was when I saw her, and didn't feel cheap in any way to me. I know in the past she's sung a few covers, etc, to fill out the set list, and I'm glad she replaced those with Crayons songs, not dropping more of the standards. Also, for all the shit spoken about casino audiences and venues, I have to say that I couldn't think of a better atmosphere to see Donna--maybe it was because she hadn't come to this part of N America in so long so all her die hard fans were just waiting, or cuz it was smaller than many casino venues and more intimate, but the actual theatre and audience were *perfect*. Base don this, I'd go back to see a show at River Rock in a heartbeat.
Tommy took something like a hundred photos so when he gets back to Calgary I hope he'll post some. I also hope the rumours of it being filmed for DVD in LA are true--I'd love to see it all again and have something to remember it by. (They didn't sell any programs which was disappointing).
Oh and later that night, while having drinks back in the hotel on the patio/balcony, something pretty surreal happened. You could hear people partying in the penthouse above and then some people stepping out--and while it wasn't perfectly clear you could clearly hear Donna and some others (maybe her sister) talking and laughing away and then singing little bits of songs! Of course I stayed out there listening as hard as I could. LOL
Anyway thanks for reading all this--definitely one of the very best concert experiences of my life and better than I imagined.
- Eric H