Royal Albert Hall – 18.09.18
When I was little, my granddad used to proclaim (about absolutely everything): “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!”, and until I saw Dionne Warwick at The Royal Albert Hall, I never truly understood what he meant. 35 songs into the setlist however, and and my backside is showing more signs of fatigue in the RAH’s standard seating than Dionne is…
Indeed, with most of the audience proving 50 shades of grey to be an observation of ageing hair more than a mucky novel, the beginning of the concert seems a demonstration from Warwick on how to grow old and stay young, relevant and sassy at heart: “Do remember you’re supposed to talk to me when I talk to you” she reminds us — she’s less than satisfied with the reserved, British mumbling she gets back from her audience. On her 10th appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, she’s clearly an old hand at holding an audience to account, as the audience suddenly rises to the challenge.
I’d like to get the one criticism out of way now (and I’m so nervous to bring it up — sorry, Dee): her setlist was backwards. Literally, it was the right way round — moving chronologically through her hits — but for someone in their 70s, it inevitably takes a long time to warm up vocally, and by the time her vocals were properly there, we’d moved completely out of the amazing big 60s numbers and onto the 80s and modern tracks. To have squashed Walk On By and Don’t Make Me Over into a medley right at the beginning of the night was a mistake that doesn’t respect how good either song or her voice actually is — I felt like I was at a sushi bar where the dishes I want go past on the belt too fast for me to grab them.
There is one other thing. Warwick clearly likes to keep things a family affair — it’s revealed to us that her drummer and (amazing) vocal duet partner is none other than her very own son, and he would have earned our deepest respect for his musical ability alone, but the other guest vocalist I feel was a slight misfire. Being Dionne’s granddaughter, I know we’re all supposed to feel warm and fuzzy when she joins Warwick on stage and they duet together, but honestly, it’s hard to stand up next to such a vocal legend. Despite having youth on her side, Cheyenne Elliot’s delivery lacks the identity her grandmother has spent years crafting. Perhaps if we’d seen her on her own as the support act she’d wow us — but even the best madegascan vanilla doesnt tingle the tastebuds after something spicy, granny or no granny.
Most rousing track of the night goes to A House Is Not A Home, whilst the track that gives you the tingly feels has to be Alfie. Best supporting act goes to the string orchestra, who root those Bacharach and David songs right in the 60s and bring you the kind of nostalgia you wish you could bottle and douse your childhood in.
Warwick though is the real attraction, with a voice that has deepened over the years, but luckily in depth as well as tone — a master is still very much at work here. If you can, and if she manages another, go see her next London performance. Just make sure you pack a picnic for the longest setlist of your life.