Music Review | Tina Turner
Still Proud, Still Kicking, Still Nice and Rough
By BEN RATLIFF
Published: December 2, 2008
Several times during Tina Turner’s show at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Ms. Turner sang to the audience from on high. First she stood on a riser, later a scaffold, then a crane. It was a decent visual effect, but anyone can be imperious when she’s 30 feet above you. Her genius took hold after she was lowered to the stage.
On solid ground in high heels, she was a ferocious, shaky blur. If Motown choreography intimates the smooth stroke of a cello, hers is the sound of an outboard motor. That strobing physical language, heavily borrowed by Mick Jagger in his youth, was what stuck in your head as you left.
Nothing could outdo it: not more than 40 years’ worth of hit-song melodies, not the shamelessly extravagant stage show, which involved ninjas, flash pots and dancers in flesh-colored lamé shorts. When Ms. Turner did her farmerlike dance — palpitating with slightly bent knees, kicking out one lower leg and then the other as she grimaced and smiled at once — that was a kind of music too, and it was her gift to you.
The screaming wasn’t bad, either. Ms. Turner, who is 69, fattens her voice with emotion whether she’s singing songs of dominators or the dominated. It’s a hopeful voice; it connotes ambition and longing, never misery. But over the course of a night, she had an evenness, even a flatness. It took screams to pierce through that, and she used them pretty often, considering that this was the 30th show in a world tour that will run through April.
As Mr. Jagger has borrowed from her, she has borrowed back. This concert bore strong vibes of a Rolling Stones show: the cherry picker that swung her out in a semicircle over the first 20 rows; the insistence on playing songs with the same original arrangements (particularly “Proud Mary,” with its opening soliloquy about “easy” versus “rough”); the museumlike, video-enhanced emphasis on a back catalog of recordings, film roles and television appearances, rather than the living performer herself, as the entity to be worshiped; the carnivalesque elder-sexpot game, at which she is totally credible. And she did play a few Stones songs outright — “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll.”
Often the show felt like a sampling of MTV from about 1989. An acoustic, “Unplugged”-like section started the second half, with Ms. Turner sitting on a stool and singing a reharmonized version of the Beatles’ “Help.” (It gave her a necessary rest, and offered a better view of the lacquered red soles on her black Christian Louboutin shoes.)
She performed her version of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” backed by screen images of models vamping with guitars, similar to the ones in his video. And there were high-camp interludes more properly suited for television awards shows: ninja masters fake-fighting with security guards; armored post-apocalyptic warriors (for her song “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” from the “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” soundtrack); an absurd James Bond sequence to go with her song “GoldenEye” (from the 1995 film of the same title, if you don’t have a keen memory).
As opposed to her dancing, Ms. Turner has finishing-school manners. She thanked her sound and light engineers by name; she sang “Happy Birthday” to one of her backup singers. And she told the audience, in a way that was so nuanced and artful that I can’t quite remember how she put it, to be aware of how excellent an audience it really was. Underneath the imperiousness and gloppy show business there seemed to live a decent person. She sent you home with that in mind too.
Tina Turner appears on Wednesday and Thursday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., and on Saturday at the XL Center in Hartford; tinaturnerlive.com.