Live Last Night: Tina Turner

tinaTina Turner's raw power still resonates. (Marvin Joseph/TWP)

Tina Turner was hovering over the Verizon Center crowd, singing her fiery 1973 song "Nutbush City Limits" from a cherry picker during a Sunday-night encore, when she decided to go hot-stepping across the hydraulic lifting arm that connected the aerial platform to the stage.

It was a breathtakingly fearless display of athleticism, for Turner was nearly two stories above the arena floor -- wearing towering spike heels, no less -- while her famous, fabulous legs pumped like pistons on the narrow, catwalk-like surface of the lifting arm.
So much for shuffling cautiously and quietly into her golden years!

Turner is both a force and freak of nature at a very late 68. (She turns 69 on Wednesday and will celebrate with a concert that night in Newark, N.J. First, though: Another Verizon Center show tonight.)

A half-century into her career and on tour for the first time in eight years, the indefatigable singer remains a potent performer who defiantly refuses to let the aging process strip away her physicality, making her the Jack LaLanne of female rock stars. Or, perhaps, the womanly Mick Jagger, whose lusty sexuality, increasingly leathery voice and enviable stamina Turner seems to share.

On Sunday, for nearly three hours, including intermission, Turner put on a swaggering, high-voltage rock spectacle in which she easily dispatched any concerns that she's become some sort of museum piece -- even if she was presented on a pedestal: The concert opened with the world's sexiest sexagenarian standing on a platform, some 20 feet above her band.

But she was quickly lowered onto the stage, where she furiously twitched those legs and shook that leonine shock of blonde hair while singing about body heat over the sinewy guitars of 1989's "Steamy Windows," her voice sounding powerful and primal, as it did throughout the night during her songs about sexuality, strength and survival.

With no new album to support, Turner constructed a streamlined a set loaded with hits, from the spectral soul of 1966's "River Deep, Mountain High" to the MTV-era proffer that turned her into an international megastar, including "What's Love Got to Do With It." Live, with Turner's seven-piece band playing a faithful version that was heavy on synthesizers, that 1984 smash came across like an almost laughable period piece, suggesting that Turner has aged far better than some of her own hits. Her strong, wailing vocal confirmed it.

"What do you think, huh?" she asked as sweat cascaded down her bosom. (It's hard work saving a song from drowning in a pool of cheese, you know.) The crowd shrieked. Turner beamed, delighted that her raw power still resonates after all these decades.

(What no longer resonates: That ridiculously campy Aunty Entity get-up from "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," which Turner wore -- complete with massive blond wig -- during "We Don't Need Another Hero." Was I the only one in the arena wondering if the production manager had invited the drag-queen Tina sitting stage left to stand in for the iconic star during the song?)

The ultimate rock-and-roll survivor isn't totally ageless, of course -- and not only because she isn't as lithe or nimble as she once was, which is to be expected. Notably, Turner's already rough voice is even coarser now, but with less lift, clarity and control; during several songs Sunday, including her old 007 theme "Goldeneye," she stumbled while attempting high-flying vocal runs, her singing sounding more like screeching.

Much better was a series of covers, which Turner performed while seated on a stool to give the audience a break from all the glitzy visual dynamics (undulating dancers, pyrotechnics, videos, quick costume changes, etc.).

On a simmering, pared-down stripped-down version of the Beatles hit "Help!," Turner sounded like a great old blues shouter, braying plaintively over an elegiac piano line. On a swaying cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," she sang in a high, pleading voice, like a great soul singer. And on a superlative, cissy-strutting take on the Ann Peebles song, "I Can't Stand the Rain," Turner transformed herself into a New Orleans funk singer to brilliant effect.

Naturally, though, the showstopper was "Proud Mary," the Credence Clearwater Revival hit that Turner turned into her own signature song in 1971. Closing the main set, it began, as always, as a drawn-out tease, with the band vamping in slow, swampy style while Turner toyed with the audience, talking and talking -- and talking -- about how the performance would go down, about doing it "nice and easy" versus "nice and rough."

Then, finally, the song exploded, as the band hit the accelerator and Turner turned into a blur of sequins, hair, arms and legs while unleashing a fierce, syncopated vocal. Turner's onstage trademark, it was a devastating combination that will never, ever get old.

--J. FREEDOM DU LAC

By David Malitz |  November 24, 2008; 1:15 PM ET Legends , Live Last Night
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i'm going to tonight's show... can't wait!

Posted by: tanderson1 | November 24, 2008 4:00 PM

Tina sang two slow songs last night that I didn't recognize: one about halfway through and the other as final encore. Will someone tell me what their names are?

Thanks!

By the way, I thought the Tina drag queen seated stage left was awfully subdued! Of course I was about a gazillion rows away.

Posted by: SW-Waterfront | November 24, 2008 4:04 PM

Amazing show!!! I've loved Tina Turner for 30 years and was thrilled to see her moving around in heels like she was only 30. I've been to see several groups lately, and many spent too much time trying to get me to like new songs instead of playing the stuff that made pay that much money to get a ticket. No problem last night - Tina did every single song I wanted to hear - and did it with the energy of someone half her age. Truly AMAZING!!!

Posted by: DWinFC | November 24, 2008 4:09 PM

i thought the show last night was fantastic! i didn't really care for her cover of "HELP", but did enjoy the whole "Beyond the Thunderdome" spectacle (as a kid i loved the song & video, but never understood the meaning). And of course, how she heckled the men at the end of "What's Love got to do with it?"

Posted by: irishviking | November 24, 2008 4:14 PM

@SW: The final song was "Be Tender With Me Baby." Did the other song you didn't know come before or after the intermission? (And what was up with the ad for the product promising "41 percent younger-looking skin"? Know your audience, I guess!)

Posted by: jfdulac | November 24, 2008 5:04 PM

Tina was as amazing as ever. I drove 2.5 hours to Washington, DC to sit in the nosebleed section and I was not disappointed. Her beauty, talent, and poise continues. I have been to quite a few of her previous concerts and have travelled much farther to see her. I always consider myself lucky to be in her presence if only for a few hours. I can't wait to see her in Newark, NJ.

Posted by: Krystle_Williams | November 24, 2008 11:48 PM

jfdulac: Thanks for helping with the name of the final song. I believe that the other one came before intermission, but I am not sure.

Yes, Amway Global knew who would be there! At times I felt like I was the youngest person there; especially when the grumps behind me started yelling for the ladies a few rows in front of me to sit down! It's a concert for heaven's sake; I'm glad they were up dancing!

Much appreciated!

Posted by: SW-Waterfront | November 25, 2008 10:35 AM

Tina's still on FIRE! I will never forget her performance and at her age, she's more than an inspiration. Truly and honor to have been able to see her perform live.

Posted by: 7055VA | November 25, 2008 1:56 PM

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