(it was with sorry we learnt of the passing of Olivia Newton-John today at the age of 53. From seven years ago.. oh those summer nights -IL)
Las Vegas is Disneyworld for adults, and by adults I mean retired former postal workers and trailer trash who hit the lottery: a huge, exhausting, Sodom with the sex surgically removed. I was in town to catch the Stones (subsequently cancelled) other gig in the desert (I’ve replaced it with Britney Spears) and also anything else I could humanly possibly catch starting with Olivia Newton John: she changed Vegas into Branson, Mo., with a very dignified appeal.
At 68 years of age, there isn’t time to tell her story here -simply informing you of her family tree would take forever, but she remains a timeless beauty, our eternal Sandy hopelessly devoted to one man after another through a well documented romantic career (she was engaged to Bruce Welch? Coulda fooled me) and hit after hit, from her roots as a teen on Australian TV through her country singer youth to “Grease” and “Xanadu”and beyond. At the Flamingo last night, she was neither matron nor sex bomb but the epitome of a stylish beauty performing on an understated stage, in front of a simple rock style band, plus back up singers, a career spanning (no, really, she performed a couple of tracks off her October 7th release “Liv On”), set highlighted by a “Grease” medley.
Nobody would claim the 100 Million selling Olivia is a great artist as such, but she makes up for her middle of the road blandness with a gift for sweetness. She less understates and more draws you in with a gentleness, it is the Sandy in her, and when she brings out the Sandy as bad girl, during “Physical” it is as cheerfully goofy as when she walks off with her “Physical” fatty at the end of the video.
On stage, Olivia is as professional as humanly possible: opening with a rousing “Magic”, she performed for 90 minutes, with a pleasant voice guy taking on the various Travoltas and the back up singers sharing the spotlight from time to time. It was held in the “Donny And Marie Showroom” and a finer meeting of venue and white bread it is hard to imagine. This was the 70s for born again Christians, G rated pleasantries, “Have You Ever Been Mellow” as timeless pleasure center and Olivia as a Grace Kelly meets country girl. In a sparkling black pantsuit Olivia should loan to Hillary, she chatted pleasantly but never aimlessly with the audience, some of the men looked as if they were gonna faint. One woman claimed to have seen Grease over 100 times. With segments based upon subject and style, including an iffy rock medley (if two songs can be considered a medley) and much better, an acoustic country mid-concert piece of glory. The “Jolene” wasn’t up to anything much except she blew the rough off at the end, but the “Don’t Play B17” was classic country and, like everything, she sang it well. The years have been kind to her pipes, as kind as they have to her physical appeal. Later she sang a song to dolphins and another to trees from the environmentally devoted to you woman. Her other big issue orientation is cancer, which lived on through in 1992, and which she also sang about. None of the three are much cop, and I am cynical enough to find film of felling trees while the trees cry “Don’t cut me down, I am your friend” terrible.
But we were waiting for “Grease” and we got it, “You’re The One That I Want”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and a brilliant singalong to the song the show is named after, “Summer Nights”. “Summer Nights” was lots of fun, with the audience segregated by sex. Olivia cracked up as the men blew Travolta’s final “oooh…”, tried it again, and cracked up again. A “We Go Together” finale only left the late great Peter Allen’s “I Honestly Love You” to see us on our way.
Olivia was well prepared, beautifully voiced, her band were on the money and while, despite my immense affection for the woman, the songs are a little too mellow for my tastes, it was a blast to see her in person. Even so, if you can’t see Mick, she’s the next best thing.
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