DOLLY PARTON: BLUE SMOKE WORLD TOUR AT THE LG ARENA, BIRMINGHAM
Tour Dates: Until Wednesday 2 July 2014 (UK dates), 14 July 2014 (International)
Performance Reviewed: Sunday 22 June 2014
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
As the undisputed Queen of Country drew a crisp, powerhouse a capella rendition of ‘Little Sparrow’ to a close at Birmingham’s LG arena this evening in the second act of her Blue Smoke World Tour, it was difficult to fathom what superlatives could be reached for to do this veritable legend of the music industry, and entertainment industry as a whole, justice suffice. The enamored audience had already been treated to an impressively diverse catalogue of hits old and new (including highlights from the titular new album), and many of her prolific, signature numbers were still to come, but it was surely with the reflective, almost mournful ‘Little Sparrow’, it’s stripped back, minimalist staging and Parton’s faultless vocal that the irrepressible charm, charisma and undeniable genius of Miss Parton was at it’s most raw and irrefutable.
For Dolly only really needs Dolly to put on a show, and her latest tour wisely keeps things nice and simple across the board - the lady herself, her larger-than-life personality and equally demonstrable heart, and, of course, her music. As endearing and vibrant as ever, it would almost be excusable if Parton spent the entirety of her time on-stage without belting out a single tune, so fun, insightful and winning are her numerous reflections on her life thus far and musings on the ways of the world. ‘It costs a fortune to look this cheap’ is one of her staples, and as Parton rolls it out again she acknowledges herself how she ‘always says it’, but it is still lapped up and loved by everyone watching. There is not a trace of falseness or pretence, for as ever she is the most frequent and willing subject of her own ridicule and self-deprecation. It may have been said ad nauseum, but she truly remains one of the most endearing and lovable icons to grace the international stage, and an evening in her witty, warm-hearted presence is a rather precious experience indeed.
Of course, as natural and gifted an orator as she may be, it is her truly eclectic array of hits that draw the crowds in their thousands, and as mentioned her Blue Smoke World Tour is almost faultless in it’s selection. The first act is where the majority of her new material is given time, and it gets the evening of to a fresh, more exploratory start. The title track ‘Blue Smoke’, for instance, is itself an upbeat slice of fun, peppered with plenty of ‘choo-choo’ and ‘woo-woo’ perkiness, and a notable similarity to her Academy Award-nominated ‘Travelin’ Thru’ (sadly absent here). Parton clearly has fun performing it, but it’s with the more personal touch and bluegrass stylings of some of her other hits as ‘Smoky Mountain Memories’ and ‘Coat of Many Colors’ that the shows soul and dimension emerges, and a real sense of Parton the artist begins to set in.
And what an artist she is - completely belying her years (68, remarkably), bopping about on stage with boundless energy and cycling through a bevy of instruments including guitar, fiddle, saxophone and even her own personal harmonica, naturally all adorned with an abundance of rhinestones for that quintessential Dolly look. It’s an almost dizzying display of musical ability that sits impressively in tandem with her songwriting prowess and a voice that remains as silky, powerful and clean-cut as ever. Whether tackling gospel, folk, pop etc. and be it her own work or her inventive re-imagining of the works of others from Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ to Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’, her rich, soulful soprano vibrato, likewise, shows absolutely no sign of slowing down, as powerful and passionate as ever.
By the time the intermission, and a costume change, were done, Parton brought out the big guns (surely a pun to be made there) for a rousing finale that quick-fired the likes of a romantic medley, ‘Islands in the Stream’, ‘I Will Always Love You’ and, naturally, seminal favourite ‘9 to 5’ which she partly left in the hands of a very willing and exuberant audience. It’s a somewhat predictable denouement to the evening, but understandably so, and there’s the very definite feeling that everyone involved wouldn’t have had it any other way, and when you’re dealing with the signature numbers from a genuine musical icon (a word bandied about far too often but completely applicable here) it’s a fittingly exhilarating and satisfying finale.
Still searching for that appropriate superlative to fittingly describe the talents, presence and showmanship of Miss Parton, and the brilliant showcase of all these things that her Blue Smoke World Tour proves to be, ‘unmissable’ seems to be the only one that comes close. It may sound a little cold or commercial, and Tennessee knows humble Dolly herself would never have the hubris to say it herself, but here is an undisputed legend, one of the few of her calibre and enduring success still performing with such effortless ease, showing everyone how it’s done and doing so in the most entertaining and joyous fashion possible, and that is absolutely an occasion that no self-respecting fan of Country, music, or heck, a good time as a whole, should allow themselves to miss.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
+ A genuine icon of the music industry, still at her peak
+ No frills - all Dolly, all brilliant
+ Diverse, eclectic Setlist of old and new
+ Songwriting and vocals as powerhouse as ever
+ Some inspired covers and arrangements
DOLLY PARTON: BLUE SMOKE WORLD TOUR ran at the LG ARENA, BIRMINGHAM for one night only and is no longer performing at the venue. The tour continues across the UK and Europe until Monday 14 July 2014.
For Europe and International tickets, CLICK HERE.
For information on future events at the LG Arena, Birmingham, head on over to the Official Website.
Press tickets for this performance of Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke World Tour were provided courtesy of Guesty PR. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.