Then Came Aunt Dionne – Teaching Us A Lesson Or Two

When the iconic worldwide singer Dionne Warwick, who performed here in Chicagoland Friday night, stopped in the middle of one lecture to her audience on how to show more appreciation during their applause while she introduced her band mates – to deliver another totally different scolding – it conjured up visions of the “Celebrity Apprentice” version of Dionne Warwick – one who took no prisoners with fellow celebrities before she was “fired” from the show in Episode 4 of the 2011 season.

Oh, and the target of Ms. Warwick’s waypoint lecture on this Friday night?  An unfortunate young woman whose smartphone camera flash was distracting the legendary singer as she delivered the applause lesson.  Ms. Warwick admonished the stargazed fan by telling her to “turn that off please,” and reminded her – and the rest of the audience – that artists don’t appreciate their images showing up on “YouTube, InnerTube or AnyTube” because it never represents the artists “the way we want to be represented” and it usually makes us “sound bad.”  She finished, “turn it off and enjoy the show, that’s what you came here for, right?”

Yes, Ms. Warwick…that and to take pictures of a living legend in whose presence we felt so honored to be on this fall Chicago night.

The legendary Dionne Warwick
The legendary Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick stopped in Chicagoland on a night that much of the town was celebrating the Cubs’ historic World Series victory from less than 48 hours earlier.

As a non-Cubs fan, I was more than happy to drive the 45 miles away from the city to visit the small historic Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL, and see one of music’s all-time greatest singing superstars in the most intimate of settings (even if the singer herself couldn’t remember the name of the suburb in which she was performing, we were a festive and forgiving bunch).

But as the Grammy-winning, six-decade spanning singer quickly reminded the 800 or so people in attendance while describing her experience in Chicagoland over the past 24 hours, you “can’t get away from them Cubs” (I felt like that comment was directed at the hater in me) as she congratulated the team’s fans for their win before starting her show.

And then she did just that.

As Dionne put it, the order of the evening “is a good time.”  And so she began by performing the first of a 14-song set list starting with one of her most beloved hits, 1964’s “Walk On By,” followed by its immediate predecessor in the singer’s immense song catalog, “Anyone Who Had A Heart.”  It became immediately clear that Dionne is still an elegant singer whose voice now takes on a huskier, lower register, but still has some of the beauty that made her famous in the first place.  Yes, those symbols of youth – the long vocal runs and piercing high notes – are now ancient history, but Ms. Warwick carried the tunes well enough to spark many in the audience to loud applause, with a couple of standing O’s thrown in to boot.

As the night progressed, she continued to breeze through her legendary discography of Burt Bacharach-Hal David tunes with ’60s hits like “You’ll Never Get To Heaven,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Message To Michael” and “This Girl’s In Love With You.”  By the time she got to the million-selling 1967 classic, “I Say A Little Prayer,” which she introduced by calling it a “new rendition she was bringing into the 21st century,” the audience was fully immersed, including yours truly.  “Prayer” included a long vamp at the end that flatteringly punctuated the new vocal and instrumental arrangement.

I had a great vantage point for this intimate show.  My friend and I had second-row seats, which was more than enough consolation for the post-show interview that I didn’t get.  It wasn’t for lack of trying though.  I had earlier reached out to her PR people who informed me: “Having just received your email, it is unfortunately too late to schedule an interview for this evening.  Ms. Warwick is leaving right after the show and if there is ever anything scheduled post show, it must always be scheduled and approved by Ms. Warwick in advance of the date.

“Your interest is appreciated….I wish you would have contacted me much sooner to let me know…”

Even though I had attempted to contact them earlier than what their response suggested, I felt fortunate enough just to be having that email exchange with Aunt Dionne’s people.  Before realizing we had second-row seats, I thought that those emails were as close as I’d ever get to the songstress.

But back to the show.

Dionne followed “I Say A Little Prayer” with one of my favorites, “Alfie,” before taking the audience on a journey to her “second home,” Brazil, with a performance of a sensual Brazilian medley: “Jobim Medley – Quiet Nights, Wave, Waters of March” and “Aquarel do Brazil.”  During this part of the show, Warwick showed us some salsa and merengue moves that, quite frankly, I didn’t know she had even half a lifetime ago.  Dionne will be 76 years old next month, and – while time may have taken its toll on her voice, the singer was reminding us that she still has it and isn’t ready to either hang up the mic or leave the stage just yet.

This was especially highlighted during the next tune, another salsa-flavored rendition of 1968’s “Do You Know The Way To San José.”  It was during this performance that each of her four band members got a solo part that led to her introductions and the intervening lecture of the audience after we didn’t applaud loudly enough for the first member.  Invoking a lesson she was taught at an early age from the “greatest entertainer to ever grace any stage,” Sammy Davis, Jr., she at once reassured the band mates and admonished us by noting that the audience may not be aware that it’s applause isn’t showing enough appreciation.  After that reset and the aforementioned cell phone scolding, Ms. Warwick restarted the introductions – this time to roaring applause.

After this long break in the song action, Ms. Warwick resumed with the Barry Manilow-produced 1979 classic, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” (not to be confused with “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”).  Aside from The Bee Gees’ written and produced tune “Heartbreaker,” “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” is my favorite Dionne Warwick song.  At one point during the performance, the singer came to my part of the stage (did I mention we had second-row seats?!) and I could swear she was singing directly to me in approval as I mouthed the lyrics.  As she segued from the second verse to the second chorus, it became disappointingly clear whom her gaze was actually targeting, as she scolded the lady seated next to me, “you can put your phone down, too!”

Talk about a heartbreaker.

But Aunt D was dishing out those lashings all night.  After “I’ll Never Love…” finished, an audience member three seats down from me – and clearly in hearing range of Ms. Warwick – shouted “Deja Vu!” “Deja Vu!,” imploring the singer to sing the song that was, coincidentally, the 1979 follow-up to the tune she had just finished.

Ms. Warwick – after shooting him a piercing look that at this point had become painfully familiar to several in attendance – actually partially obliged by delivering one a cappella line from the song’s chorus, “Deja Vu, could you be the dream that I once knew?”

But even that concession came with a price.  The singer immediately reprimanded the now humbled fan – and all of us others – by reminding him that artists constantly get these type of impromptu song requests and that they have to remind the audience that “there is a show that has been prepared. Y’all can go and play the CD after the show, but for now…”  But this particular lesson wasn’t all that harsh, as she gave the fan a warm-hearted smile before continuing on with the “planned” performance.

And with that, the legend continued with the show’s closers, “What The World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love)” and her biggest hit, the #1 “That’s What Friends Are For.”  For the former, she coached the audience to sing the song’s main line three times in succession on her cue.  This set us up for one more lecture from the night’s singer/audience overseer.

When the audience didn’t sing the line in triplicate loudly enough the first time, she beckoned us to try again.  With the group seemingly slow to react, an unfortunate soul seated behind me attempted to help Ms. Warwick generate the desired excitement by standing and loudly imploring others to do the same.

You see, these are the benefits of having second-row seats, you get to hear all this exchange between well-meaning fans and a legendary superstar who has lived a long, successful life and is used to being in control.  After all, in retrospect, this was a woman who had essentially “fired” Donald Trump on that 2011 episode of “Celebrity Apprentice,” not the other way around.

So when the exuberant fan stood up and asked others to do the same, Dionne motioned for him to sit right back down, noting that “I have the microphone, honey!”

And with that, the audience – on Ms. Warwick’s cue, and perhaps out of fear at this point – sang “what the world needs now” as loudly as it possibly could.

Then the set finished with her solo rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For,” and the 80-minute performance was done.

Dionne Warwick makes her graceful exit at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL on Nov. 4, 2016.
Dionne Warwick makes her graceful exit at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL on Nov. 4, 2016.

There was no encore, although the now-standing fans were clamoring for more.  Just a heartfelt “I love you all” followed by her elegant exit stage-left.  Then the band packed its instruments and soon followed suit.

As we left, I couldn’t help but feel a little weird about the whole experience.  On the one hand, here was this legend whose best days were behind her, but who still has the goods to pack an audience – even if it was a small, intimate and historic venue like the Arcada Theatre.  She’s certainly packed larger venues recently and she’s consummating her still-legitimate worldwide fame by heading to Australia to perform several dates there over the next few weeks.

On the other hand, we got a glimpse into a diva who clearly likes to be in control and wants things to happen on her own terms.  Several audience members learned that valuable lesson on this night, and you know what, she was right.  There are certain protocols you don’t violate, especially in the presence of a singer of this caliber.

So next time you go see a Dionne Warwick concert, or any concert for that matter, and they tell you no cell phones, no song requests, and no attempts to take over as Master of Ceremonies, think about these lessons and try to refrain.

Oh, and if you’re trying to secure an interview, be sure to reach her people well enough in advance.

DJRob

Dionne Warwick at the Arcada Theatre on November 4, 2016.
Dionne Warwick at the Arcada Theatre on November 4, 2016.

Her Chicagoland Setlist:

  1. Walk On By
  2. Anyone Who Had A Heart
  3. You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)
  4. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again
  5. Message to Michael
  6. This Girls In Love With You
  7. I Say A Little Prayer
  8. Alfie
  9. Jobim Medley – Quiet Nights, Wave, Waters of March
  10. Aquarel do Brazil
  11. Do You Know The Way to San Jose
  12. I’ll Never Love This Way Again
  13. What the World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love)
  14. That’s What Friends Are For

Notable omissions:

  1. Heartbreaker
  2. Then Came You
  3. Don’t Make Me Over
  4. Deja Vu
  5. A House Is Not A Home
  6. Theme From (Valley Of The Dolls)
  7. Promises, Promises
  8. No Night So Long
  9. How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye
  10. Love Power
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