As tympani thundered and muted horns pierced the night air, Shirley Bassey walked on stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night. She was wearing a sequined gown slit to the hip and belting out her biggest hit, the nearly 20-year-old "Goldfinger," to the accompaniment of two dozen musicians. A brassily orchestrated entrance, it foreshadowed much of what followed.
There's no getting around it: Bassey is an impressive singer. She has an extraordinarily strong contralto voice, impressive range, sure pitch, and a charming personality that instantly befriends an audience. Subtlety, however, isn't her strong suit.
Song after song, whether a Gershwin classic or a Billy Joel tune, was given flat out, blockbuster, show-stopping treatment. On some songs, "Don't Cry Out Loud" for example, an extravagantly dramatic arrangement seemed appropriate, and when Bassey topped a raise-the-roof rendition of "New York, New York" by quipping "follow that Frank, follow that Liza," one couldn't help be impressed by the sheer power of her voice. But just as often, other songs, such as George Harrison's "Something," seemed ludicrous in such a bombastic setting. Thus it wasn't long before her concert settled into a predictable and tiresomely flashy routine.