Time, Tina and Ringo March On

Tina Turner, and Cyndi Lauper
America West Arena
May 7, 1997

You don't get a double bill like this every night. Here we had two female performers who reached their zenith in the early MTV '80s--one carefully coifed and choreographed, one klutzy and disheveled by design.

That neither Tina Turner nor Cyndi Lauper has continued her string of hits says more about the public's miasmatic infatuation with Whitney and Mariah--who doggedly insert vocal acrobatics every few bars and seem incapable of letting a good song do some of the work--than diminished abilities on Turner and Lauper's parts.

While Cyndi Lauper has always had an astonishing range, she's unfortunately remembered more for her Betty Boop meets Krazy Kat banter and hanging out with pro wrestlers. Her self-deprecating humor and shocking red-violet locks still shone through in her opening set, but the hiccuping kewpie-doll voice she used on hits like "She Bop" and "Money Changes Everything" has been relegated to the dark recesses of nostalgia. Heck, she didn't even do those songs, or "True Colors," for that matter.

She did, however, favor her '95 revamp of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" over the dated original, and sat down at a dulcimer to transform "Time After Time" into what sounded like an Irish folk ballad.

"It's not just me singing for you, it's me and my buddy," said Lauper, pointing to her belly. "I'm just trying to get over the 12th week."

Barefoot and pregnant, Lauper performed a half-dozen songs from her new Sisters of Avalon CD, including one where she used more of a Joan Osborne blues-mama delivery than her usual pop-tart style. She threw another curve ball with a stab at riot grrldom called "I Love to Hate You," a manic, rocking diatribe for which she strapped on an electric guitar.

The most touching part of Lauper's brief set was a heartbreaking "Fearless," which she sang a cappella: "If I was fearless, could I be your reckless friend/And if I was hopeless, could you be the one rushing in?"

Lauper tugged at the audience's heart strings, but Tina Turner went for something a little lower. Her gold-festooned stage show was a spectacle of KISS Meets Las Vegas proportions. The first glimpse of an ageless Turner standing on a rising platform recalled the old joke about putting a woman on a pedestal so you could look up her dress.

Turner, however, was no old joke. Try finding another 57-year-old performer who can match her fire. She sizzled all the way through "River Deep, Mountain High," during which the multimedia-screen backdrop carried grainy video images of Turner performing back when no one asked "Ike who?" Can you imagine Jagger having the balls to flash his baby pictures from '65, '66? Never.

It's hard to fathom why Turner temporarily retired from live performances several years ago. She can still sing and titillate with ease, as her sultry rendition of "Private Dancer" illustrated. Turner used the extended sax solo downtime to seductively pull on the legs of some of her band members' pants. During "What's Love Got to Do With It?", Turner immobilized both guitarists by grabbing their Telecaster necks and dragging them around the stage. Then she gave an amusing speech about the time in our not-so-distant past when "men controlled things."

Turner performed unplugged versions of hits like "Let's Stay Together" and "I Can't Stand the Rain." While she could make even selections from The Sound of Music sound like invocations to fornicate, the contrived lyrical sexiness of "Steamy Windows" seemed like overkill and one of the evening's only weak song choices.

Surprisingly, near-forgotten tracks like the Thunderdome theme and "Better Be Good to Me," slight on record, become Turner tour de forces live.

One troubling moment almost dashed the Turner's "Nutbush City Limits" encore. While she gamely made her way into the front rows to allow everyone a chance to scream "Nutbush!" into the microphone, one overzealous fan actually tried to bite Turner's hand! Like the lady herself once sang, "You gotta show some respect!"

--Serene Dominic

Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band
Mesa Amphitheatre
May 5, 1997

It's too easy to be cynical about these annual Ringo sightings--in fact, it's almost expected. Ringo's lead-vocal contributions to the Fab Four don't number a dozen, even if you count his warbles on "Flying." And none of his solo tunes packs the emotional wallop of a "Hey Jude" or "Something." But that's because Ringo tunes were designed to offset greater songs, which is why it makes perfect sense that Ringo, reprising his role as the world's greatest bit player, chooses each year to tour with other legendary musicians who filled higher-profile John, Paul and George roles in their respective groups.

Compared with past Ringo revues, which boasted twin guitar and keyboard attacks, this Ringo de Mayo/all-British lineup ran low on all-star power. Dave Mason, listed on the ads, was not in the ranks. And some anonymous utility player manned the second keyboard spot in place of another potential star--come on, couldn't they chip in a couple of extra bucks and get Christine McVie?

The diminished number of soloists meant the job fell continually on Peter Frampton's able shoulders. Although history, in the form of snooty rock critics, hasn't been kind to the onetime Humble Pie man, he emerged as the evening's MVP. With close-cropped, bleached-out hair, looking more like U2's Adam Clayton than his old self, Frampton is the only all-star with the exception of Ringo who has consistently toured in recent years. His energetic musicianship and presence brought the crowd to its feet time and time again. Plus, he had the necessary reverence to open the second set with a solo rendition of "Norwegian Wood" that managed to coax some credible sitar sounds out of an acoustic 12-string. Also, he no longer needs to insert a tube in his mouth to get that talk-box effect which he used on an extended "Do You Feel Like We Do." Ringo clearly had a ball playing that number, which, at 14-plus minutes, clocked in longer than the average 1966 Beatles set list.

The evening's most sublime moment came watching Jack Bruce, one of rock's greatest bass practitioners, plod his way through "Yellow Submarine" and "I'm the Greatest." Ringo periodically stepped up front, but he's obviously most comfortable behind the drum kit. And with Starr's stature in the rock world as a premier timekeeper, you kind of wish you could hear him play at least one song without another drummer slogging alongside. Twice when he returned center stage in the night's game of musical chairs, he had the unenviable task of following Jack Bruce's barnstorming "Sunshine of Your Love" or Gary Brooker's outstanding rendition of Procol Harum's "Conquistador," usually with lukewarm fare like "The No No Song."

"What's my name?" Ringo asked the audience members several times, just to remind them that no matter how corny his selections get, they were still in the presence of a Beatle. It hardly matters to them that, these days, most of Ringo's hits in the key of E ("Boys," "I Wanna Be Your Man"), D ("It Don't Come Easy") and G ("Act Naturally") all get transposed to an easygoing C that even Sonny Bono could tackle. Everyone is too busy saying to themselves, "Ah, it's the same Ringo who was painted red by Kahli worshipers in Help!." Sure, you could also imagine it's the same Ringo who starred in Caveman, Shining Time Station and a Pizza Hut commercial with the Monkees, but if The Beatles Anthology series taught us anything, it's that selective memories will never let you down.

--Serene Dominic


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