wed 11/12/2019

Ronnie Spector, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Ronnie Spector, Barbican

Ronnie Spector, Barbican

Sixties icon's charm and fine band compensate for brittle vocal performance

Ronnie Spector: great entertainer, shame about the voice© Laurie Lewis

Their songs are some of the most joyous of the Sixties, their glistening doo-wop close harmony and pealing early rock 'n roll guitar sound heady with innocent romance and youthful energy. At the Barbican last night, Ronnie Spector, whose band The Ronettes haven’t been regularly releasing new work for nearly fifty years, effortlessly wound the clock back to the well-groomed early years of rock 'n roll when singing about mother kissing Santa was enough to earn her the title “original bad girl of rock”. She got everyone on their feet, and even though the audience was mostly about her age, there were plenty who wanted to be her baby.  

It’s billed very explicitly as a nostalgia tour featuring “all the hits”, and Ronnie walked us down memory lane with some well-chosen anecdotes and evocative footage of posters and early gigs on the screen behind. She’s certainly a more confident and charismatic compere than the nervous girl she introduced singing on early Sixties’ music television, and the chat with the audience was packed with engaging anecdotes.

She grew up in Spanish Harlem, Manhattan, and the tales of early musical breakthroughs in local venues – from their first paid gig dancing in the window of a Hawaiian restaurant, to muscling in on other bands’ shows – were brilliantly vivid. She talked about the influence bands like The Flamingos, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and The Students had on their playing; these flavours are clearly audible, but Spector adds intimacy and sensuality that helps keep these songs direct and effective.

All told, this was more historical reconstruction than edgy new gig

The ungallant but brutal truth is that Spector’s voice has become brittle, with occasional wobbles over intonation in some exposed passages, such as the opening of “Chapel of Love”. She has lost the soft tonal control at lower volumes that gave her the deliciously (and ever so slightly Winehousian) honeyed sound. Unable to vary her volume easily, on anything other than a belting chorus, she was forced to use a slightly grating, staccato tone.

The band, however, made up for this skilfully, and the arrangements were clearly designed to support Spector’s voice with both backing singers and instrumental accompaniment. With at least eight musicians plus Ronnie, there was no shortage of cover, and it sounded bright and slick. While the bass and sax kept largely in the background, there was some lovely shiny solo work on guitar, in particular.

The two singers (with a third in an identical outfit playing acoustic guitar) are, like the original Ronettes, members of Spector’s own family. Their sound shimmered gleefully, always in tune, and as they performed their synchronised dance moves, little gestures acting out the lyrics, with a mesmerising sway of their satin outfits, they gave the show a sensuousness that began to explain why the band was long ago considered risqué.

And it was all the hits. Spector took a couple of songs to warm up, but thereafter, it was gleaming melody after melody. “Paradise”, “Time Is On My Side”, “Do I Love You?”, “(Best Part Of) Breaking Up”, with, inevitably “Be My Baby” – albeit with a slightly too exposed vocal line – closing the formal programme, followed by an encore of “I Can Hear Music”. This last song was not especially successful on first release – not last night.

And it was all the hits. Spector took a couple of songs to warm up, but thereafter, it was gleaming melody after melody. “Paradise”, “Time Is On My Side”, “Do I Love You?”, “(Best Part Of) Breaking Up”, with, inevitably “Be My Baby” – albeit with a slightly too exposed vocal line – closing the formal programme, followed by an encore of “I Can Hear Music”. This last song was not especially successful on first release – not last night. 

Fans wholly in love with the sound of her voice at its supple best may find the deterioration distressing, but it was managed well, and the rest of the band were gorgeous. As a compere, Ronnie Spector was utterly delightful. All told, this was more historical reconstruction than edgy new gig, but with performances as seductive as this, even a cynic couldn’t help be charmed by the Ronettes’ irresistible nostalgia.

  • The Fabulous Ronettes conclude their UK tour at Colston Hall, Bristol, tonight

@matthewwrighter

The ungallant but brutal truth is that Spector’s voice has become brittle

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Matthew - glad you at least seemed to enjoy some of it but I would take you to task on 2 comments. How can you imply that her voice used to sound Winehousian? Seriously, who came first? By default, Winehouse's voice sounded like Spectors not the other way round. Secondly you can't criticise the concert for being "historical reconstruction than edgy new gig" when quite clearly and, as you state in the top of your review, "it’s billed very explicitly as a nostalgia tour featuring “all the hits”. Be critical by all means, that appears to be your job, but don't nit pick for the sake of it. Your review seems hell bent on focusing on her voice, which from the front row sounded pretty decent for a 70yo, you might just have missed the point of the show.

Alan – I spent one paragraph out of eight talking about her voice. And I think the quality of her voice is quite an important part of assessing her performance! As for Winehousian, I simply meant it as a description, to give a sense of what she sounds like. I wasn't meaning to imply she'd started imitating Amy Winehouse late in her career. Of course, she was the original. 

Apparently you were at a different show-the audience who payed to see the show adored it, and we were all on our feet! What an evening!

I said: "She got everyone on their feet." I enjoyed it too, and gave it four stars, but the unavoidable truth is that her voice has lost its elasticity, to put it politely. 

I do understand that we all have a point of view..Personally I loved the show,, what a treat to see and hear a Legend do her thing, I would have been very surprised had her voice not changed..that's life and I think it added to the moment.. I thank God for beautiful nights like this..LOved every moment of it...

Thought the show was very good... ...her voice was very good and she was very friendly towards the audience... ...great to see her so well and her musical history is superb.

I absolutely loved this event. Ronnie Spector could just stand and read the Metro for all I care! An absolute legend in concert and a joy to see - and be part of. Great band, great sounds and brilliant singers. Personally, I felt her voice was better than ever. A hugely memorable gig.

I saw Ronnie Spector in Glasgow a few nights earlier and was blown away. From the moment she stepped on stage with her big hair and shimmering backing singers she was a sensation. The voice is still wonderful, her stage presence riveting. Many disappointed Scots missed this gig. I discovered she was performing only 3 or 4 days earlier. So glad I did. Such superb entertainment is really rare. Ronnie is a true legend.

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