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Tina Turner

Tina Live!

(EMI-Manhattan; US: 20 Oct 2009; UK: 29 Sep 2009)

Trivia: How old was Tina Turner when she performed at Live Aid with Mick Jagger in ‘85? You remember: Turner and Jagger in a slobbery strut-off—Tina in black leather; Jagger in hospital sleepware—both bitching their way through a garbled version of “State of Shock” and then vamping endlessly over the chorus of “It’s Only Rock and Roll”. There was even a planned wardrobe malfunction that stripped Turner of her miniskirt. It didn’t much matter that the performance was ragged or under-rehearsed; everyone could see that Turner was back, more than holding her own with rock’s greatest frontman and reminding us that Tina owns whatever stage she sets high-heel to. She’d been in a ten-year commercial drought between 1974 when she first went solo and 1984’s Private Dancer, but that album and, yes, Live Aid put her back on top for good. She was 45.


That was almost a quarter-century ago, and Turner has just put out a new live album at age 69 (she turns 70 this month). Tina Live! (billed simply as Tina, officially dropping her last name, the last vestiges of Ike), is a document from her 2008 tour supporting last year’s Tina! Her Greatest Hits compilation. The concert’s setlist follows that record’s tracklist almost exactly, a set of songs that has formed the setlist of Tina Turner shows for about two decades. Tina Live! is the first live set from her since a DVD from a 2000 Wembley Stadium show, One Last Time Live!, billed as her last world tour. But rockers always change their minds about calling it quits, and Turner just had to prove that 70 is the new 40 and that she can still go bigger, stronger, sweeter.


The release comes in a CD/DVD combo package, and both work equally well although the DVD includes a handful of additional songs. Gone from the CD are covers of “Help!” and “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, which isn’t ideal, but thankfully also gone are the DVD’s loopy interpretive dance routines during the concert’s set and costume changes. What you miss on the CD are the quartet of female dancers who provide cornea-taxing routines choreographed by, get this, Toni Basil. (No cheerleader outfits, however.) 


And make no mistake—Turner is still in vigorous, rocking form; the only sign of wear and tear is that she sits down during the middle portion of the show while belting out songs like “Private Dancer” (Did you know Mark Knopfler wrote that?) and “Undercover Agent for the Blues”. It helps that Turner always sort of danced like an old woman, with that bow-legged, buckram peacock prance. And while she might be a little stiffer on those dance moves than before, her voice is still a blast-furnace of soul shouting and rock belting, with all kinds of power and range. Sure, she gets a little shrieky here and there, but that’s long been part of her fearless devotion to sweaty, full-gallop performance.


The show opens with the driving ode to car sex, “Steamy Windows”, so Turner wastes no time demonstrating that she’s lost none of her rock voice nor her libido. She reaches back and sings “River Deep, Mountain High” in a big, snaky arrangement and hitting those same razorblade “Yyyeaahh”s that she did back in ‘66. The musicians here are, of course, uniformly first-rate and arrangements are so tight and locked in that the show has a Vegas-y slickness to it, but that’s no major complaint, not when Turner works the band as hard as she does, as on the extended frantic jam at the end of “You Better Be Good to Me”.


The middle part of the set belongs to the ‘80s, when everything was big, especially Turner’s hair. Sure enough, in the ‘80s, Turner doubled down on her legend with some of the Reagan era’s most inescapable hits, and here we get “You Better Be Good To Me”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, and “We Don’t Need Another Hero”, during which she takes the stage in full Auntie Enmity garb, her character from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for the concert’s only true cringe moment. Way better is the stripper-pole torch of “Private Dancer”, a song that’s held up surprisingly well. “I wanna make a million dollars”: Check. “I wanna live out by the sea”: Check. “Do you wanna see me do the shimmy again?”: Yes.


Next, Turner turns to a slew of ace covers, including a loyal, loving take on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, with an excellent vocal, and the one-two Stones punch of “Jumping Jack Flash” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll”. Turner yells it like she likes it, all right, and she slays the stadium through the end of the show, reaching back to the beginning again with “Proud Mary” (nice and rough) and a sizzling, show-closing “Nutbush City Limits”, featuring 80,000 Hollanders screaming the name of a tiny town in Tennessee. Anything for Turner. It’s an astounding performance at any age, and Turner was already on the books as one of rock’s and soul’s all-time greats, but by pushing 70 and delivering a full-blown stadium extravaganza with barely an inch of compromise, she pulls off a feat that’s hard to imagine being matched any time soon.

Rating:

Steve Leftridge has written about music, film, and books for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, No Depression, and PlaybackSTL. He holds an MA in literature from the University of Missouri, for whom he is an adjunct teacher, and he's been teaching high school English and film in St. Louis since 1998. Follow at SteveLeftridge@Twitter.com.


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