Dionne Warwick blended three personas at Proctors on Saturday: proud mother of opening act/duet partner David Elliott; enchanted, transplanted Brazilian; and human jukebox of well-loved, elegant 1960s pop hits. All three sounded strong, though some were more familiar than others, and all three looked preternaturally young.
Her grown son’s appearance reminded fans that Warwick’s appeal has spanned several musical generations, though her songs seem timeless in her effortless, restrained style. Her singing son had to work harder, introduced as a surprise and singing to tracks from his iPod, a high order of karaoke. Fans took their time warming to this surprise. Passive in his opener, “What You Don’t Do for Love,” they took him to heart by his closer, “Let the Past Go.”
However, Warwick’s fans — mainly of the AARP demographic, half-filling the theater — were there to embrace the past, and Warwick helped them, front-loading her 75-minute set with hits. “Close to You” brought her close to the audience through her usual strengths of immaculate articulation and stunning certainty of pitch and rhythm. She mostly sang her classics at full length, though few stretched past three or four minutes, showcasing the power of songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s radio-friendly gems. “Walk on By” walked at a leisurely pace, and “Anyone Who Had a Heart” built up nicely. A truncated “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” was less satisfying, but then she gave “A House Is Not a Home” its full, smoldering drama.
She didn’t move much, preferring a regal stance in her black slacks and sequined black top and tunic, though she visited stage right in a vigorous “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” before quieting things and returning to center stage for “Message to Michael” and “This Girl’s In Love with You.” Updating such familiar songs is risky, and Warwick paid the price in fans’ fidgeting when she re-purposed “I Say a Little Prayer” as a Latin-vamp that seemed more fun onstage than off as Elliott joined her in a duet and drummer Jeffrey Lewis grinned as he grooved.
After “Alfie” — as strong as “House” — she headed for Brazil, celebrating her new home with “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” “Waters of March” and “Brasil.” At times, she lost her easy rhythmic elasticity in these bossas, sounding a bit stiff, but transforming “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” into a salsa vamp seemed even more uncomfortable for some in the audience. She recaptured them easily, however, earning a standing ovation for a powerful, swooping “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and a multi-faceted “What the World Needs Now” featuring a sing-along and a gospel-ish coda. Elliot joined in for a sweet duet in “That’s What Friends Are For,” teasing a dramatic flourish but ultimately staying within the song.
In other words, he’s learned his mother’s secret: Trust the songwriters and work within what they give you. Warwick also trusted her band, a slickly unobtrusive quintet whose keyboardist, Todd Hunter, expertly synthesized the strings, brass, reeds — even Stevie Wonder’s chromatic harmonica in “Friends” — that gave her hits an orchestral character and heft.
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