Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celine will go on

Time for some live music! After Carcass and Goldfrapp, I went to see Celine Dion at Madison Square Garden yesterday evening. Ka-razy! It's hard to describe the over-the-topness of that show, which of course was all about Celine emoting and monologuing and doing dance moves (or is that "dance"?) and belting to the rafters. Expected, sure, but if you want to see a born entertainer at work, no matter what you think of her art, the Garden was the place to be last night. Even the Sheila entered reluctantly and left a convert. She even scared me a little when she exclaimed "She's the biggest star I've ever seen!" I pointed out that she had seen Madonna at the same venue a few years ago. "Celine is bigger," she replied. Well then.

This actually was the second time I'd seen the Quebecois songbird live: Back in March 1994, I reviewed her first local show, held at Town Hall. I was then a cub freelancer for the late, much-missed New York Newsday, and I was so eager to get a byline that I'd say yes to anything the daily paper's music editor, the irreplaceable Ira Robbins, would throw my way. Let's just say it wasn't the hippest acts. In addition to Celine, I wrote about concerts by John Denver, Julio Iglesias and Diana Ross; I even trekked to Queens College for Jerry Lewis.

Celine was already doing well in the francophone market but her first U.S. hit, her duet with Peabo Bryson on "Beauty and the Beast," had come out only a couple of years earlier, and "My Heart Will Go On" had yet to land. Clearly she was still holding back somewhat, as this excerpt from my 14-year-old review shows:

"Celine Dion provides a classy, upscale alternative for people who think of Mariah Carey as a shopping mall superstar. Like Carey, Dion has a big voice, and, also like Carey, she loves ballads. But while the Long Islander squarely opts for big hair, big shows and big vocals, Dion takes a more low-key approach, which proved far less grating over the course of an evening. Her simple outfit (long white shirt, black leggings, black jacket) and stage behavior (no costume changes, no dancers, no props and only a few PG-rated pelvic gyrations) provided a visual complement to her relatively pared-down vocals. Dion made good use of her clean, clear, resonant voice without indulging in gratuitous vocal acrobatics—except on a cover of 'Can't Help Falling in Love,' during which she stretched some notes well past their expiration date."

These days Celine does have costume changes and dancers and pelvic gyrations and props (projections and two treadmills). And her vocals are anything but pared down. But what hasn't changed is her core personality (you can take the girl out of Quebec…) and the way she connects with both the stage and the audience. My favorite part was her banter, which clearly is somewhat scripted but still holds pockets of what feels like gushing sincerity (her strong point, as evidenced by some of her most memorable TV appearances). The least you can say about her is that she's completely unique.


Mike said...

"her banter, which clearly is somewhat scripted but still holds pockets of what feels like gushing sincerity"

So maybe she and Elliott Smith had more in common than it seemed from their joint Oscar appearance. Completely different music, production and vocal delivery, but at their core not so different. (Or am I using rock critic rhetorical tricks? Probably that.)

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Celine Dion and gushing emo boys have much, much in common. An underexamined topic, methinks.