Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dolly Parton - Live 2016.12.06

Artist: Dolly Parton
Venue: Frank Erwin Center
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 6 December 2016

Setlist (with some help from here):
01. Train, Train (Blackfoot cover)
02. Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That
03. Jolene
04. Pure & Simple
05. Precious Memories (John Wright cover)
06. My Tennessee Mountain Home
07. Coat of Many Colors
08. Smokey Mountain Memories
09. Applejack
10. Rocky Top (Osborne Brothers cover) → Yakety Sax (Boots Randolph cover)
11. Banks of the Ohio (traditional adaptation)
12. American Pie (Don McLean cover) → If I Had a Hammer (The Weavers cover) → Blowin' in the Wind (Bob Dylan cover) → Dust in the Wind (Kansas cover) → The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band cover)
13. The Seeker
14. I'll Fly Away (Albert E. Brumley cover)

Second Set:
15. Baby I'm Burnin' → Burning Love (Arthur Alexander cover) → Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis) → Girl on Fire (Alicia Keys cover)
16. Outside Your Door
17. The Grass Is Blue
18. Those Memories of You (Alan O'Bryant cover)
19. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
20. Little Sparrow→ If I Had Wings
21. Two Doors Down
22. Here You Come Again
23. Islands in the Stream
24. 9 to 5

Encore:
25. I Will Always Love You
26. Farther Along (W. A. Fletcher/J. R. Baxter cover)

Dolly was scheduled to begin her performance at 7:30pm on a Tuesday night with no opening band. As my spouse and I both work office jobs with fairly typical hours, it was actually something of a challenge to get to the venue on time. We didn't quite manage it, but mercifully she started a few minutes late and we made it inside the building right as she was coming on stage. From that point on, though, the night was hers: she performed for over two and a half hours, not counting a half-hour intermission.

I was immediately surprised to find no drummer on stage (despite that a percussion track was audible). However, Dolly explained early in the set that since the name of the tour and her latest album is "Pure & Simple", she wanted to play simpler arrangements of her songs. I appreciated that she had no hesitation to admit the use of backing tracks – she even asked guitarist Kent Wells to demonstrate the operation of his drum machine! She also claimed that a drummer she had considered bringing along was rejected after asking if the theme of the tour would mean that Dolly would appear without make-up, her hair done up, and her usual flamboyant outfits. Obviously, that was not a direction that she was willing to consider. ("But that's just who I am!") In addition to Wells, Dolly was backed by bassist Tom Rutledge and Richard Dennison on piano and percussion. All three provided backing vocals, but Dennison's role was often so critical that on a few songs he was essentially dueting.

Much of the first set was done in the style of a variety show, where Dolly would take her time, tell long stories about her life and her songs, and interact with the audience. For example, she explained "Jolene" in great detail by first announcing that she'd been married for fifty years. However, early in the relationship, while her husband was working at an asphalt company, she got suspicious of the amount of time he spent at the bank, and one day she went herself to find that he appeared to be spending a lot of time at the counter with a particular clerk. She admitted to the crowd that her jealousy may have been unfounded, but nonetheless, that clerk was the Jolene that inspired the song.

A substantial amount of time was spent discussing her childhood in Appalachian Tennessee. While she occasionally went on a bit too long, her stories were generally interesting and appeared to match up with official accounts of her biography. Meanwhile, she frequently swapped instruments. During the course of the night, she played acoustic and electric guitar, hammered dulcimer, autoharp, banjo, pennywhistle, and during "Rocky Top", violin and saxophone. After her cowboy stage hand gave her the violin, she commanded him to dance while she played, which he naturally obliged. Then, after playing a sax solo, she asked if the audience wanted to hear her play it in reverse, which of course they did, and so she did it.

While the prospect of a performer just talking for something like a third of the evening probably sounds a boring prospect for most, Dolly managed to keep things genuinely entertaining. Her style was both engaging and endearing, and her life certainly comes off as a genuine story of hard work and determination to be successful on her own terms. One of her stories was that she was asked if Elvis Presley could cover "I Will Always Love You" in the days before it became the standard it is now. She agreed until she was told that when Elvis covered a song, it was expected that the songwriter would assign half the songwriting royalties over to him. She then declined, which was obviously a prescient decision. She also made me laugh out loud when someone shouted, "I love you, Dolly!", and she immediately shouted back without skipping a beat, "I told you to wait in the trailer!" I'm sure it wasn't her first time using that line or telling any of these stories, but it's hard not to enjoy it all. I was a little annoyed by the lengths she went in describing some her religious sentiments, but I also greatly appreciated that she explicitly spoke in favor of everyone practicing their own religion, including atheism.

Dolly approached her setlist with what seemed to be a certain amount of whimsy, joking that her manager told her she needed to play another song from the new album. She played a mix of her big hits, a few back-catalog choices, a handful of covers, and a couple medleys of material from various sources. While introducing the medley of older classic folk material (plus a few lines of "Dust in the Wind"), Dolly ventured into post-election political territory, but walked a fine line and shied away from making explicit statements. At face value, the medley was rather cheesy baby boomer bait, and the audience ate it up, but the irony is of course that the songs in question were all progressive anthems of their era.

While some parts of the show may have been a bit over the top or completely ridiculous, Dolly provided a legitimately entertaining evening, and a lengthy one at that. The band was sharp, Dolly's instrumental talents are not insignificant, and her voice is still in great form. Not every song was a winner, but many were, and she went a long way to make the show memorable and fun.

Score: B

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!

P.P.S. I am aware that there are doubts about the authenticity of Dolly's saxophone performances. Certainly the miniature size of her instrument was suspect. However, I was seated too far aware to observe carefully, and she did appear to be rather winded afterwards (although naturally that too can be faked).

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