Dolly Does Hollywood… Florida, that is
Live at Hard Rock Live
Hollywood, Florida, October 18, 2011
Call her what you will – a showbiz chanteuse, a down home diva, or simply the epitome of American superstardom – Dolly Parton is a brilliant entertainer, as suited to the stage as any individual icon of the modern era. She proved that repeatedly on the final night of her latest Stateside jaunt, which took her to Hard Rock Live in Hollywood Florida. True, she sometimes gives the impression that her show is Vegas slick and carefully choreographed, but one would be hard pressed to find another performer who’s able to rouse an audience as effectively from the get-go simply by her presence… or to bring them to tears with her heartfelt sentiment.
Dolly demonstrated the former the moment she stepped on stage. Emerging from the back of the boards and flanked by her superb eight piece band and three backing vocalists, she amped up the energy and never let it waver. Taking the tune “Walking on Sunshine,” the one-off hit from Katrina and the Waves, as her opening rallying cry, she offered a welcoming shout out that amped up the adrenalin and caressed the crowd. After 40 years, she’s still as folksy and friendly as her humble origins suggest, and although her glitzy costumes (she wore a different sparkly outfit for each of the two sets), hit-laden set list and well-rehearsed repertoire are clearly the product of seasoned professionalism, her connection with fans remains every bit as intimate and emphatic as its always been. She demonstrated that in her emphasis on the hits – from “Jolene” to a heartfelt “I Will Always Love You,” the set list is tailor made to please all degree of devotee – and with her pithy comments, which were sometimes barbed, mostly self-effacing and frequently nostalgic. A tender take on “Coat of Many Colors” was positively spellbinding and evoked emotions that rarely surface with a show of this size. And when she followed with “Appalachian Memories,” which she dedicated to her father, suffice it to say there was barely a dry eye in the house.
Happily though, Dolly doesn’t have to rely strictly on sentiment. While her instrumental work-outs were displayed in snippets – one song singled out her guitar playing, another found her showing off on banjo, another featured solely on autoharp, and one offering gave her opportunity to lay out an impressive sax solo (and , in her words, feel “saxy!”) – her expansive musical talents were all too obvious. Vocally she was also in fine form, and when she sang acapella, either solo or with her backing vocalists, her powerful delivery was breathtaking to behold.
Fortunately too, all these skills were put to good use. A generous selection of songs from her new album, Better Day, suggested that her hit-making prowess remains as potent as ever. In addition, several covers were spread throughout her set, including a terrific take on “River Deep, Mountain High,” a credible attempt at the Beatles’ “Help,” an unlikely stab at Counting Crows’ “Shine” and a bluegrass version of “Stairway to Heaven” that she claims her husband, a staunch Led Zep fan, labeled “Stairway to Hell.”
Likewise, her humorous commentary was nonstop throughout; aside from some expected comments referencing her dumb blond image (“I know I’m neither dumb… or blond…”) and some laughs at the expense of said husband (commenting on her husband’s crush on the woman who inspired “Jolene,” she said that seeing him now, asleep on a chair, snoring and with drool coming out of his mouth, Jolene is welcome to come back and claim him), she went so far to try her hand at a rowdy rap song, saying she was inspired by her forthcoming film with Queen Latifah. You combine Country and Rap and you come up with “crap,” Dolly insisted.
At age 65, Dolly shows no signs of slowing down. Sexy and spunky, Dolly is definitely delightful.
— Lee Zimmerman