Attending a live concert taped for television is about as fun as having the doctor say, “Turn to the left and cough.” So, if you find yourself at home thinking, “Man, I wish I could be there,” that’s the magic of a director.
Ken Erlich Productions and crew face the task of trying to turn the interminable three-and-a-half-hour concert that was this year’s “Women Rock: Girls & Guitars” breast cancer benefit — featuring Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow (a return performer from last year’s first annual show) Mary J. Blige, the Dixie Chicks, Nelly Furtado, Shea Seger, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Emmylou Harris — at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on October 18th into a finely tuned TV special that will be broadcast on Lifetime on October 26th at 9 p.m.
Since I am in Los Angeles, where everyone aspires to direct, and I must sit through six minutes of down time for every three-minute song, I will take on the role of director, sequencing the show and providing the reasons why each song is included and slotted where it is.
Opening: Nelly Furtado’s lovely acoustic version of “I’m Like a Bird.” Furtado is hot right now, and this rendition shows the intimacy and penchant for risk-taking on this special night. Unfortunately, it’s Furtado’s most visible performance of the night, leaving her absent until the all-star finale.
Wanting to kick the energy up after Furtado’s quiet start, I’ll put Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks’ shit-kicking “It Don’t Hurt,” propelled by the Chicks’ rousing strings next. To keep the momentum going, Pat Benatar, the Dixies, Shea Seger, and Crow’s version of Benatar’s signature anthem, the rocking “Heartbreaker” follows. The performance is not the most inspired, but the respect and affection showered upon Benatar was moving.
Return with some opening remarks by Lifetime President Carol Black on the importance of the battle against breast cancer. Back to the music, with Emmylou Harris, the Dixies, and Beth Nielsen Chapman doing a moving version of a surprise selection, Patty Griffin’s folkie narrative, “Mary.”
Follow this with everybody singing a cover of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit.” The ensemble pieces are supposed to be the big finale, but the song was not one of the night’s most impressive, as it suffered from too many voices, and a lack of energy — perhaps due to the fact that, by 11:30, the upstairs portion of the Wiltern was almost entirely empty.
Now we’re ready to rock, with twenty-one-year-old Texan Shea Seger. Seger, whose debut album, The May Street Project, is one of the best of the year, takes it up a notch with the infectious and energetic “Clutch,” one of the few performances of the night large enough to fill the venue.
This is followed by Benatar and Seger on Benatar’s “We Belong,” which finds Benatar’s voice in a very authoritative manner. Her famous opera training hasn’t been lost with the years.
Time for another all-star number, as everybody unites for a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky-Tonk Woman.”
Get ready to have the house come down as Mary J. Blige gets them crazy with a rousing, soulful version of “No More Drama.” Blige’s commanding vocals has people asking, “Whitney who?”
End this segment with Crow and Benatar (who were two of the most ubiquitous performers of the night) joining together for a subdued rendition of Crow’s “I Shall Believe.”
Time to pull out the showstoppers, starting with Seger and the Dixies’ Martie Seidel and Emily Erwin doing a rousing interpretation of Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man.” With Seger prancing around like Mick Jagger and sounding like the second coming of Janis Joplin during her bluesy wails, the song stands as one of the two best of the night. Seidel’s slide guitar work also has a lot to do with that.
But the evening’s best performance, and the song I choose for my closing is the unlikely teaming of Blige and the Dixies’ Natalie Maines for Etta James’ standard “At Last.” Maines proves up to the task of trading vocals with Blige, and the two are properly rewarded with one of the night’s biggest standing ovations.