Arizona native Linda Ronstadt graced the stage of the Celebrity Theater with her powerful voice, singing a mix of classic standards and the rock ‘n’ roll that made her famous. Opening with What’s New, it became immediately clear that while many of her contemporaries have lost some of their vocal range and quality, Ronstadt’s voice is as amazing as ever.
She said it was “nice to be here in Phoenix, I’m almost home. I can tell because I have to go to the market.” She continued saying that “in care you’re wondering what I’m going to sing” because she had “been in these parts with a lot of different bands” a rock band in the ’70s, and then in the ’80s when she started Broadways, she was doing “eight shows a week, only one day off – when you do your laundry” that she had a “friend with a washer” who introduced her to jazz and Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and she wanted to record some jazz. She said she was scared to call up Nelson Riddle and he hated rock’n’roll but he asked his daughter if he should record with her.
Her daughter said “Yes, because then the checks won’t bounce” then she “got tired of singing in English” so she toured with a Mexican band, and then a bluegrass band, so she was going to sing standards the first half of the show and the second half the hits. She said “it’s like the whole century of pop music, I just hope it doesn’t feel like a hundred years at one time.” She sang Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
Before Straighten Up and Fly Right she said that she had taken to “dedicating this to Enron for years, so they wouldn’t forget what a horrible thing they had done,” but now it was dedicated to Alberto Gonzales. She sang the Cole Porter song Get Out Of Town and then said, “I don’t know what’s next. Oh… I’m all confused, the stage is all round and I’m the last person to have gotten the internet and I’ll be the last to take the wires off my mic” she added under her breath “because the wireless ones sound shitty.”
She said, “I know what I wanted to do, introduce the band.” She did introductions and then said “this next song was written by a 16 year old in the ’30s, it’s a sad song, he must have been the loneliest boy in town, and he was brave” because “he used rhyming schemes that only a teenager would use.” She talked about how he had met Duke Ellington and then wrote “Take the A Train” but this was one of her favorite songs, Lush Life.
She said that in 1948, everything changed because people were coming home from WWII and they were sick of everything, the clothes, the music, and they built the interstate and “everyone got TV and became illiterate and then the Internet finished it off. Anyhow, in 1948, music historians say the very first rock song came out on the radio, called Too Soon To Know. Two back-up singers came out with the song and towards the end, Arlo started messing with Linda and she was reduced to giggles.
Just One Look was next, and then a “Smokey Robinson song”, Ooh, Baby Baby. She sang Adios, Adios and then started into yet another story.
“Back in the early ’70s I was on tour with Neil Young, it was a really cool experience, he was one of my favorites and we became good friends.” She talked about how she’d stay after her show to listen to his and that playing with him at Madison Square Garden was one of the first times she had ever been out of a club, but when they were in Houston, “a friend of mine, Gram Parsons, was playing, and he was playing with a new girl, Emmylou Harris” and they had gone to see them and Linda decided that she “had to be friends with her, and wanted to sing with her, she was so fabulous”.”
She continued saying that one day, “Emmy called up and said, ‘You have to get over here, Dolly Parton’s here!’ and I went over and we were sitting around and the guitars came out as they do with musicians and we were singing a Carter family song and we looked at each other and thought, ‘this is a sound we’ve never heard, we have to make a record.’” She played High Sierra and then said that this was “another song I recorded with Dolly and Emmy, on the same record, I think.”
She continued on saying that Randy Newman had written a Faust, and a Faust “for those of you who don’t know, is a guy with bad taste” and he “made a deal with the devil so he could get all the hot new cars and clothes and chicks” and that Randy had actually cast the whole thing.
He cast “himself as the Devil, James Taylor as God – a brilliant and well meaning God, but forgetful, he forgets to do things like helping people in Katrina” like “the guy who’s running our country now” and “Elton John as the arch angel, Don Henley as the Faust” (she paused to wait for that to sink in, when she got some laughs and “ooohs” she continued) “Bonnie Raitt as the good girl who’s life isn’t ruined and me as Gretchen, the girl that’s life if is utterly devastated by Faust.”
Randy “wrote two songs for me to sing with the orchestra. I’m not gonna sing them though, they’re much too depressing, I’m gonna sing the one he wrote for Bonnie” and after the long and fairly winding story she sang Feels Like Home.
She said “I sang this next song in a movie about a little mouse. In the movie, the mouse sang it and I thought he was a pretty good singer, and at the end, when the credits are on, I sang it. I’m gonna do it as a duet with Arlo.” and sang, Somewhere Out There which turned into “Happy Birthday” for Arlo.
They went into Poor, Poor Pitiful Me and she said, “Thank you for coming out tonight, we have one more song,” Blue Bayou. She sand the last few lines in Spanish and left the stage.
For the encore, she came out saying, “Thank you so much, growing up in Tucson in the ’50s, it was before TV, my Dad refused to get one, I still won’t have one in my house, but we got one in 5th grade but we weren’t in the habit of watching it, we were all bookworms.”
She said that “we weren’t allowed to bring a book to the dinner table but we were allowed to sing, so my dad would just burst out… this is a song we used to sing,” before singing Quiéreme Mucho. She went right into Desperado and on the last crescendo, she kinda lost her breath, laughed it off saying “that was the last voice I had, kinda like a toothpaste tube.” She kept her composure, waved goodbye and was off.
Linda was the fastest talker of any show I’ve ever seen, it was very difficult to keep up with her, but she was hilarious. I also don’t think I have ever been quite as floored with someone’s talent as at this show.
While the show was incredible, the audience was less than perfect and could have done with a quick lesson in concert manners. And it was the most homogeneous crowd I’ve seen in a long time, with approximately three other people under the age of 40, who all looked like they might have rather been at the dentist than seeing an “aging rock star.”