Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cologne, Saturday, 17 January 2009
Tina Turner: Simply the best!!!
As rock'n'roll's male dinosaurs stage one comeback after another, it's down to Tina Turner to show them how it should be done

Tina Turner uses a hydraulic lift to make a dramatic entry on stage in Cologne this week.
The 20,000-seat Lanxess Arena in Cologne, where Tina Turner opens the European leg of her 50th anniversary tour, is one of those typical journeyman arenas which are now virtually the only places where fans can get to see artists of a certain stature. Designed to host sports and music events, it's far from perfect acoustically – but then, acoustics are not the main priority at shows like this, a crowd-pleasing career retrospective spanning "River Deep - Mountain High" to "Goldeneye", in which the music is but one element of a multimedia spectacle.
So you don't just get her singing "Goldeneye", you get a chap dressed in a white tuxedo doing a kick-boxing ballet with two assailants on a giant staircase, whilst a massive circular device behind them slowly opens to reveal Turner on a platform which thrusts forward, allowing her to step on to the balcony at the top of the staircase, descending while svelte ladies in gold catsuits writhe around wantonly and explosions pepper the stage.

And you don't just get her singing "We Don't Need Another Hero", you get some more martial-arts shenanigans upon a climbing-frame, around which curtains are drawn, like some Las Vegas illusionist stunt, then parted to reveal Turner in full Thunderdome costume, complete with massive blond wig.
The show, which the final credits reveal was "Conceived and Directed" by Tuner herself, is stuffed with special effects, from the frequent pyrotechnic bursts and huge flamethrowers that will surely test the mettle of our health and safety killjoys when the show reaches the UK, to the extraordinary stage which constantly sprouts pedestals, balconies, cranes and cherry-pickers, like some outsize Transformers toy. She even opens the concert perilously poised upon a tiny pedestal, 20 feet above the stage, which slowly lowers into the floor as the band kick into "Steamy Windows".
Not the kind of thing you'd let your 69-year-old granny attempt, but then Tina Turner is no average 69-year-old. Even when hoofing alongside her dancers, she never stumbles or struggles to keep up with the younger girls – whom she has obviously drilled in the classic Ikettes moves – and isn't too upstaged by them in terms of looks, either. While most of her contemporaries have become bloated or developed the complexion of a prune, she remains as fit as a Premiership footballer – this show is the best part of three hours long, and she's in constant action throughout – and fitter-looking than their WAGs. And most crucial of all, she's still blessed with the most powerful pipes in pop.
The quintessential "rock chick", Tina Turner remains unique among black women singers in her unbending devotion to rock'n'roll: in an era marked by legions of indistinguishable R&B "divas", there's something almost feral about Tina Turner's voice, nowhere better demonstrated than in the "unplugged" section which opens the show's second half with an achingly soulful, bluesy reinterpretation of "Help", where she effects a transformation almost as definitive as Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower".
Similarly proprietorial cuffs are snapped on to "Addicted to Love" and "Proud Mary", while elsewhere, she blasts through "Jumping Jack Flash" and "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" to a backdrop of period shots of her larking about with the painfully thin, painfully young Stones; taps into Tony Joe White's swamp-blues motherlode with an uptempo "Steamy Windows" and emotive "Undercover Agent for the Blues"; affirms her Memphis funk sensibilities with punchy versions of "Let's Stay Together" and "I Can't Stand the Rain"; and at the close of the first set, wields the core Turner classics "What's Love Got To Do with It", "Private Dancer" and "We Don't Need Another Hero" like Sugar Ray Leonard putting together a bruising combination of punches. By the time she reaches "Simply The Best" and the encore of "Nutbush City Limits", the crowd is up on its feet and out for the count, if you see what I mean.
Turner is only the latest of a string of 1960s and 70s stars who've recently chosen to tread the comeback boards, though few have carried it off with her panache – nor her determination to give the crowd its money's worth. The Cream reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall had a certain intrigue, akin to witnessing hell actually freezing over, but the show itself was nothing more than three old geezers taking a stroll down musical memory lane – albeit, thankfully, three virtuosi old geezers.

Wolfgang Rattay