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Donna Summer - 3 June 2008, New York

Pictures by Craig Bailey / Words by Christian John Wikane.

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

A heat wave swept through New York City last week as Donna Summer held court at the posh west-side haunt, Mansion, to officially celebrate the launch of her new album, Crayons (Burgundy, 2008). Greeted by an ovation that lasted well towards five minutes, Summer was moved to tears by the genuine adoration of fans, friends, and industry folk gathered for the occasion. Though Summer has consistently worked onstage and in the studio over the past two decades since her last full-length studio album -- a fact she emphasized to the intimately gathered audience -- this appearance marked an emotional, poignant "coming home" for the woman whose voice has echoed through the hallowed dance halls of Gotham for more than 30 years.

Hosted by Burgundy and radio station WKTU, the evening featured Donna Summer joined by a full band, including husband Bruce Sudano on background vocals. Vocally impeccable throughout the eight-song set, Summer served up a cocktail of sass, humility, and divine diva stylizations. Thunder roared out of the speakers (and from the audience) on the opener, "MacArthur Park", where every set of ears and eyes was porous with anticipation for Summer's classic, chill-inducing belt. Turning to Crayons, the seven-minute "I'm a Fire" translated extremely well to the stage from the studio recording's neo-disco beat thanks to the deftness of Summer's drummer. After hitting number one on the club play charts earlier this year, "I'm a Fire" is already an audience favorite.

All photos: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Summer sizzled during a simmering medley of "Bad Girls"/"Hot Stuff", playfully exchanging moves with the lead guitarist and striking a stance befitting a rock star with the mic stand. "Science of Love", arguably the best track on Crayons, continued the blistering dance-rock fusion to scintillating effect while the anthem-like "Stamp Your Feet" (her latest single) elicited a sea of fist-pounding pantomime. Summer clearly relished the opportunity to perform new songs. Based on the number of people singing along, so did the audience.

Still moved by the uproarious reception, Summer extemporaneously included one verse of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" in the evening's repertoire, dedicated especially to the audience. The spontaneity of that moment was followed by the inevitable -- moments later, the familiar chords of "Last Dance" raised the energy in the room to a feverish pitch. Summer's extended performance of the Oscar-winning song signaled the conclusion of a night that succinctly paid tribute to Summer's iconic status across three generations of listeners.

Donna Summer embarks on a two-month U.S. tour beginning July 3 in Newport News, VA.

All photos: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

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