It was obvious early on that Dionne Warwick fans were in for a magical evening at yesterday’s season opening concert at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.
The first sign? The lights dimmed at the stroke of the show’s announced 8pm start time. Warwick, a 50+ year veteran of the stage and a consummate professional, was off and running. She got her first standing ovation before she sang a single note.
“With an ovation like that, maybe I should just say ‘thank you and goodnight,’ “ the singer joked before launching into a night of music and memories.
I’ve been a fan of the diminutive stylist for 40 years, having come to her throng with her 1979 “comeback” album, Dionne, and the stunning “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” No one has ever sung a pop ballad better, and I couldn’t wait to hear it live for the first time.
Surprisingly, before last night, I’d never made my way to a Warwick concert. As I became a fan of Warwick’s with her pristine Arista albums of the 1980s, I could not wait to hear the aforementioned Grammy-winner along with “Deja Vu,” “Heartbreaker,” “No Night So Long” and others.
In that regard, I was disappointed last night, as she sang surprisingly few songs from her Arista catalog. But it’s a testament to Warwick’s longevity that she was a dozen or so songs into the show, having sung several classics from her 60s Bacharach / David era, before she got to any of her Arista tunes.
Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to catch Warwick in concert!
Oh, others have hit higher notes, and held them longer, than the legend did last night. While her phrasing remains unique and impeccable, Warwick, at 78 years old, isn’t what she used to be vocally. I’d quote the classic folk song “The Old Gray Mare” in reference to Warwick if not for fear that she would return to town and bitch slap me for being impertinent. We got a glimpse of her wrath last night at the Gallo Center when a disrespectful audience member’s cell phone loudly rang right as Warwick had silenced the crowed with her still sublime voice. “Turn that phone OFF,” she chided.
It was a brief distraction in the middle of an evening of magic, with highlights including “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” (a duet with her son, David Elliott, who also accompanied Warwick on drums), a show-stopping “Alfie,” the poignant “What The World Needs Now,” and the evening’s moving closer, “That’s What Friends Are For,” one of a few duets with Warwick’s granddaughter, Cheyenne Elliott. As if the world needed a reminder that exceptional vocal ability runs in Warwick’s family (her sister was pop singer Dee Dee Warwick, and her cousin was superstar Whitney Houston), Elliott made it clear that she is a force which which to be reckoned.
And then there was MY song: “Message To Michael.” And Warwick sang it directly to me, in its entirety. “Take a message to Michael / He sings each night in some cafe / In his search to find wealth and fame / I hear Michael has gone and changed his name.”
I will never, EVER change my name, Ms Warwick, as long as you keep singing it so beautifully. Thank you for an incredible night of immaculately sung pop classics.
And thanks to the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto. If last night’s Warwick show is an indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a phenomenal season.