Tina Turner, O2, London
Imelda May, Koko, London
Fans were treated to all the hits belted out in style, while across town rockabilly got a modern twist
Sunday 08 March 2009
It's a shame for Tina. Everyone knows that. Still, her abusive spouse got his in the end, dying unloved and unmourned, his passing commemorated with the awesomely sick New York Post headline "Ike 'beats' Tina to death". Meanwhile, she's having the last laugh, literally: cackling through her well-practised stage banter at the O2, instigating a who-can-shout-the-loudest gender war littered with double entendres (if "I want it rough!" is any more than a single entendre). It isn't just sympathy that makes people warm to Tina Turner. Whether you've watched What's Love Got to Do with It? or not, she's genuinely likeable.
But sexy? I never got the whole sexy thing, which has been hanging around Turner since she was first feted by the likes of the Stones and The Who as a vaguely racist honky-tonk brown sugar exemplar of black sexuality. But that's her act, and she's sticking to it. Has she turned demure at the age of – ahem – 69? What do you think? That idea is blown clean out of the water from the moment she descends on a hydraulic podium and starts strutting about in spray-on leggings, and that old exploding-mattress wig. (What, you didn't know? Some friends of mine shared a recording studio with her in the Nineties. Shiny as a cue ball, she is.)
Her voice can be a difficult thing to love, replicating the sensation of eating too many packets of bacon crisps. It's responsible, to boot, for cultural war crimes like Anastacia and Vonda Shepard. But just when you're settling in for a long, grim ride, something extraordinary happens.
"This show," she explains, slightly awkwardly, "is a recap of my past work. I want to give you a good time." The next thing you hear is the dramatic descending bass line which heralds one of the greatest records ever made. "River Deep Mountain High" was Phil Spector's magnum opus, the reason he bought Ike & Tina out of their existing record deal. When the single flopped in America the maestro flew into an almighty sulk, turning his back on the pop game for good. In Britain it went Top 3, and is still rightly adored: being among 20,000 people lowing "Do I love you, my oh my?" is a shiver-inducing experience. And Tina nails it, her band remaining as faithful as that puppy in the song to Spector's original Wall of Sound arrangement. It isn't often that I leap to my feet like the lady at the top of the column sometimes does, but at the last drumbeat I'm up like Zebedee.
A little goodwill goes a long way, carrying me through the bad stuff. Shoulderpad hits like "Better Be Good To Me" are, frankly, a load of old Annie Mae Bullocks, not to mention the dreaded "The Best". There are, at least, plenty of visual distractions, like the faked stage invasion involving breakdancing and martial-arts fighting with "Security", the Tommy routine for "Acid Queen", the eyebrow-singeing pyros and, for "We Don't Need Another Hero", the full Mad Max.
My second-favourite Turner track is one of her own. The Bond theme "GoldenEye" combines Bassey bombast with sinister stalker edge ("You'll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child ..."), and it's a highlight tonight. Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", a hit for Turner in 1983 when Heaven 17 resurrected her career, is reasonable, but "River Deep", "GoldenEye", my oh my.
The outpourings of internet grief over the recent deaths of Bettie Page and Lux Interior tell a subcultural story of their own: the stealthy growth of the Fifties aesthetic. It is, invariably, what Goths do when they hit their twenties: the boys grease up their quiffs and get a few tattoos, while the girls get dolled up in vintage and cut their hair into what Americans would call "bangs". If one singer is positioned to cash in on that mood it's Imelda May, a Dubliner whose music – and style – revives the spirit of first-generation American she-rockers like Wanda Jackson and Brenda Lee.
May, a blonde curl looped into her quiff, is a stellar presence on stage, and her band emulates a Sun Studios rawness (there's an unbeatable thrill from hearing rock'n'roll played with a proper upright bass). In addition to her own material – highlights being the spanking single "Johnny Got a Boom Boom" and the blatantly Dietrich-inspired "Falling in Love With You Again" – she has an ear for a well-chosen cover, encoring with a version of "Tainted Love" inspired – the trainspotter in me is fairly certain – by Dave Phillips' Eighties rockabilly rendition. Who's gonna be the retro heroine who makes 2009 their own? Imelda may ...
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