By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Tina Turner was hovering over the Verizon Center crowd, singing her fiery 1973 song "Nutbush City Limits" from a cherry picker during a Sunday-night encore, when she decided to go hot-stepping across the hydraulic lifting arm that connected the aerial platform to the stage.
It was a breathtakingly fearless display of athleticism, for Turner was nearly two stories above the arena floor -- wearing towering spike heels, no less -- while her famous, fabulous legs pumped like pistons on the narrow, catwalk-like surface of the lifting arm.
So much for shuffling cautiously and quietly into her golden years!
Turner is both a force and freak of nature at a very late 68. (She turns 69 tomorrow and will celebrate with a concert that night in Newark. First, though, another Verizon Center show last night.)
A half-century into her career and on tour for the first time in eight years, the indefatigable singer remains a potent performer who refuses to let the aging process strip away her physicality, making her the Jack LaLanne of female rock stars. Or, perhaps, the womanly Mick Jagger, whose lusty sexuality, increasingly leathery voice and enviable stamina Turner seems to share.
On Sunday, for nearly three hours (including intermission), Turner put on a swaggering, high-voltage rock spectacle in which she easily dispatched any concerns that she's become some sort of museum piece -- even if she was presented on a pedestal: The concert opened with the world's sexiest sexagenarian standing on a platform, some 20 feet above her band.
But she was quickly lowered onto the stage, where she furiously twitched those legs and shook that leonine shock of blond hair while singing about body heat over the sinewy guitars of 1989's "Steamy Windows," her voice sounding powerful and primal, as it did throughout the night during her songs about sexuality, strength and survival.
With no new album to support, Turner constructed a set loaded with hits, from the spectral soul of 1966's "River Deep, Mountain High" to the MTV-era proffer that turned her into an international megastar, including "What's Love Got to Do With It." Live, with Turner's seven-piece band playing a faithful version that was heavy on synthesizers, the 1984 smash came across like an almost laughable period piece, suggesting that Turner has aged far better than some of her own hits. Her strong, wailing vocal confirmed it.
"What do you think, huh?" she asked as sweat cascaded down her bosom. (It's hard work saving a song from drowning in a pool of cheese, you know.) The crowd shrieked. Turner beamed, delighted that her raw power still resonates after all these decades.
(What no longer resonates: That ridiculously campy Aunty Entity get-up from "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," which Turner wore -- complete with massive blond wig -- during "We Don't Need Another Hero." Was I the only one in the arena wondering whether the production manager had invited the drag-queen Tina sitting near the stage to stand in for the star during the song?)
The ultimate rock-and-roll survivor isn't totally ageless, of course -- and not only because she isn't quite as lithe or nimble as she once was. Notably, Turner's already rough voice is even coarser now, but with less lift, clarity and control; during several songs Sunday, including her old 007 theme "GoldenEye," she stumbled while attempting high-flying vocal runs, her singing sounding more like screeching.
Much better was a series of covers that Turner has recorded at one time or another. Turner performed these while seated on a stool to give the audience a break from all the glitzy visual dynamics (undulating dancers, pyrotechnics, videos, quick costume changes, etc.).
On a simmering, pared-down version of the Beatles' hit "Help!," Turner sounded like a great old blues shouter, braying plaintively over an elegiac piano line. On a swaying cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," she sang in a high, pleading voice, like a great soul singer. And on a superlative, cissy-strutting take on the Ann Peebles song "I Can't Stand the Rain," Turner transformed herself into a New Orleans funk singer to brilliant effect.
Naturally, though, the showstopper was "Proud Mary," the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit that Turner turned into her own signature song in 1971. Closing the main set, it began, as always, as a drawn-out tease, with the band vamping in slow, swampy style while Turner toyed with the audience, talking and talking -- and talking -- about how the performance would proceed, about doing it "nice and easy" vs. "nice and rough."
Then, finally, the song exploded, as the band hit the accelerator and Turner turned into a blur of sequins, hair, arms and legs while unleashing a fierce, syncopated vocal.
Turner's onstage trademark, it was a devastating combination that will never, ever get old.