R.I.P. Tina Turner: seeing the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll three times wasn’t nearly enough

kevin statham photo, 1993

By Steve Newton

Just heard the terrible breaking news: that legendary vocalist Tina Turner has passed away, after a long illness, at the age of 83.

An announcement of her death has been posted on her Facebook page:

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner,” reads the post. “With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow.

“Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music. All our heartfelt compassion goes out to her family. Tina, we will miss you dearly.”

Although I never actually got to interview Tina, I did see her live three times. I reviewed her Vancouver arena concerts in 1985, 1993, and 2000. I wish I would have seen her more, because she was an incredible performer.

For those who may have experienced one or more of those amazing gigs, and may want to revisit them, here they are.

I suggest you read them while playing some music by the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “Let’s Stay Together” might be a nice choice.

September 28, 1985, at the Pacific Coliseum:

Tina Turner gave the crowd at the Coliseum last Saturday (September 28) “a big kiss” for supporting the “comeback” that culminated with her 1984 Private Dancer going six-times platinum in Canada. And she thanked them by playing–with the exception of David Bowie‘s “1984”–every tune on that LP, as well as a few old standbys.

She opened the show with “Show Some Respect”, spitting out bold lyrics between dabs at her nose. “I apologize for the nosebleed,” she said, “I’ve got the flu. But it’s okay!” And it was. With a hard-working band that included a muscle-bound Conan-type dude on keyboards and sax–who was fun to watch at first, but got to be a bit much with his repeated butt-thrustings–Turner whipped through “I Might Have Been Queen”, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, and the old concert fave from her days with Ike, “Nutbush City Limits”.

The crowd started getting into the act for ‘Better Be Good To Me”, one of the first hits off Private Dancer, and after an audience-participation spiel from keyboardist “Hollywood” Kenny Moore, Tina reappeared in a fluffy white minidress and huge feather boa for the sultry title track. Partway through the song she pulled it off to reveal one of those skimpy, tattered “cavegirl” outfits she and her dancers used to wear in the Tina Turner Revue.

She prowled the stage like a seductive tigress for a couple of tunes from her movie soundtrack, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, then said, “Here’s another one I think you’ll like a lot,” before starting into “What’s Love Got to Do With It”. She got the crowd to sing the title line along with her, first the female and then the male portion of the audience. “You guys should be good at this,” she added, “you’ve been saying it a long time.”

People started to hop out of their seats and clap along when Tina did “Let’s Stay Together”, and then she sang a slow, bluesy version of the Beatles’ “Help”, calming things down before stirring them up again with “Proud Mary”. “I’ve been doing this song for a long time, and every time I do it it gets better.”

She threw in a few splashy Ikette dance moves and then left the stage, returning in a denim jacket and black leather miniskirt (and don’t forget the black net stockings) for “Steel Claw”, the rockingest song on Private Dancer. Her second encore was “Let’s Dance” (not the Bowie tune), which she dedicated to a certain fan dancing at the foot of the stage. ZZ Top‘s “Legs” came next, an appropriate choice, although last year when she opened for Lionel Richie she did Rod Stewart‘s “Hot Legs”, which is even more appropriate.

Before her final song of the night, Tina gave the audience that “big kiss” and talked about how lucky she was to have been able to work, in the last year, with the likes of Mick Jagger, Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams (heavy applause), David Bowie, and Mel Gibson (her co-star in Thunderdome). Then she introduced her last song. “I wanted to do something else with somebody…but he got married. He said he would write a song for me, but till then I’ll do one of his. By the way, his name’s Bruce!”

Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” topped the night off.

June 10, 1993, at the Pacific Coliseum:

Before heading over to the Coliseum for Tina Turner’s show last Thursday (June 10), I popped in to the grand opening of the new Mongolie Grill near Robson and Thurlow. The place was jam-packed with hungry schmoozers lining up for free food and booze, and I found myself squeezed in beside Coast 1040 on-air personality John Tanner.

When I asked him if he was going to see Turner too, he said no way, and that if he wanted dinosaurs he’d go see Jurassic Park. But as I found out later, Turner is far from being a prehistoric monster. If she’s a dinosaur, find me a time machine and set the controls for 100 million B.C.!

It’s downright amazing how great Turner looks for 53, but the best news is that she can still sing up a storm. From the opener, “Steamy Windows”, to the show-closing “Better Be Good to Me”, Turner showcased the gutsy style and raw emotionalism she built her name on. When she sings about her own much-publicized domestic trials (“I Don’t Want to Fight Anymore”) and the tribulations of women in general (Mark Knopfler’s “Private Dancer”), all the glitz and glamour of her superstar status can’t camouflage the fact that her art flies from the heart.

As usual, Turner was accompanied by a group of highly-skilled, veteran musicians, the kind who play their parts to polished perfection. She also had two female dancers who, while they were obviously a lot younger than Turner, didn’t show her up a bit during serious work-outs to old Ike & Tina Turner staples like “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary”. Turner should certainly consider putting out a Shape Up with Tina video, and showing wimpy Richard Simmons how to really sweat to the oldies.

Even with heels on.

“How many of you know about the blues?” asked Turner, before displaying her own blues prowess in a slinky version of Tony Joe White’s “Undercover Agent for the Blues”. By the time of her first encore, “Show Some Respect”, Turner had earned a ton of that from the 8,500 fans in attendance.

And with the new movie about her life, What’s Love Got to Do With It, set for release this week, no doubt thousands more will find inspiration in one of rock’s classiest and most driven performers.

May 13, 2000, GM Place

You always know pretty well what to expect at a Tina Turner concert. First off, there’s the legendary lady herself, whom you can rely on to perform with raw passion and grace. It’s in her blood, which apparently hasn’t thinned that much in 62 years.

Then there are her dancers, that quartet of scantily clad gals whose bump ’n’ grind approach to funky soul-rock keeps the energy level—and most guys’ eyes—up on-stage.

And lastly there’s the repertoire, the collection of classic Tina tracks that includes “The Acid Queen” from The Who’s Tommy, plus her show-closing renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” and the ’73 Ike & Tina hit, “Nutbush City Limits”.

If you don’t get all the above at a Tina show these days, it might be time to ask for your 90 bucks back.

The 14,000 or so fans who packed GM Place last Saturday (May 13) didn’t need to ask for refunds, and they got a few surprises thrown in as well. The staging was pretty wild, resembling a shipwrecked party yacht of sorts, with three levels for the vast array of musicians and dancers to strut their stuff on.

At one point during the theme from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Turner paid tribute to the over-the-top spirit of that flick by riding a horseshoe-shaped platform down from the top of the stage. Another time the vessel-like structure split apart amidst showering sparks as Turner emerged to the strains of David Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire (With Gasoline)”, which quickly morphed into Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”.

After a rather confounding and ill-advised segment in which Turner turned things over to her backup singers and gyrating minions, she returned to centre stage—along with a grand piano and one of her three keyboardists—for a torch-ballad version of the Beatles’ “Help”.

But what could have been a stark and stirring showcase for her anguished vocals became a grandiose exercise when various other band members—including an overwrought saxophonist—put their two bits’ worth in. Shortly thereafter, a much lesser composition, Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”, proved a great vehicle for Turner’s sassy singing style.

Most of Turner’s material was old hits recorded by herself and others, but one new tune that drew cheers was “Missing You”, which my concertgoing older sister—the same one I had to take to see Elton John a few months back—explained was featured on a recent episode of Ally McBeal.

My sis also informed me that Turner performed the tune on a recent airing of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and that Turner and Winfrey are close friends. I didn’t know that. Maybe the overachieving Opster can go on one of those crash diets she’s famous for and transform herself into gyrating-minion material in time for Tina’s next tour—if there ever is one.

Considering the rigours of the road, even legs like Turner’s must get tired sometimes.

R.I.P. Tina Turner. Simply the best.


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