Donna Summer is blessed with one of pop music's most magnificent voices. When she reaches back into her powerful lungs she can fill a single note with so much power the syllable trembles with pleasure. Unfortunately the disco genre didn't give her much chance to take the wraps off that voice. Her post-disco career has given her voice more openings, but still not enough. h
Too much of her show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion last night was wasted on awkward stage patter, corny theatrics, soggy show tunes, a preponderance of disco hits and nine (count'em) costume changes. Yet when she put aside these distractions and just stood still and sang, she effortlessly sailed beyond the boundaries that stop most singers. She got her best chances on her more recent, straightforward rock 'n' roll songs -- "The Wanderer" and "Cold Love" -- and her exhilarating gospel encore, "I Believe in Jesus." On the latter, her rich tone actually expanded as she rose into the ecstatic stratosphere of a falsetto. Even on disco hits like "Let's Dance" and "On the Radio," she disposed of the radio arrangement in the early verses and then let herself go.
Warm-up comedian Gary Shandling was surprisingly funny. No matter how well-worn the topics -- dogs, babies, intercoms -- his punch lines were fresh and witty. Summer and Shandling return to Merriweather tonight.