August 12, 2011
Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
Grand Prairie, TX USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Michael Insuaste
For some reason, over the last 30 days, it seems like every time I catch a live performance of an iconic female artist, I do the time warp back to 1986. That's the year, my memory bank tells me, I last gazed upon Sade, Ann Wilson of Heart and the enigmatic Stevie Nicks. Though each of these female superstars has carved out their own unique Hall of Fame career, without a doubt, it's Nicks who really stirs up the emotions in an audience. With nearly 40 years of whirling dervish behavior behind her shawls, to this very day there's just something about this vocalist that is both captivating and passionate. And it's those very two qualities that lie at the core of who and what this artist truly is.
Personally, I've always had mixed feelings when it comes to Stephanie Lynn Nicks. I witnessed firsthand her spiral downward into booze and drugs at a Dallas concert a quarter of a century ago during her Rock a Little tour. I dutifully reported her destructive behavior in the pages of Jam. In fact, the promoter of the concert even went so far as to ban me from any backstage access for the next year because of the scathing report I did from my behind-the-scenes perch. Yeah, Stevie was one hell of a mess back then. Unfortunately, it was that image I had not been able to shake, all these years later, as I sat quietly through this evening's opening act, Michael Grimm.
Grimm's 40-minute set was quite refreshing actually. If anyone can relate to the whimsical nature of the dreams Stevie Nicks creates, it's certainly this soulful southern crooner. Grimm is noteworthy for beating out the incredibly gifted 10-year old singing sensation, Jackie Evancho, to win the 2010 America's Got Talent contest. His heartfelt performance was well-received, especially covers of Rod Stewart's "Stay with Me" and Alicia Key's "Fallin'." Grimm has a future in the music business, and although it hasn't skyrocketed like the cute and demur Evancho, his time is coming.
Tonight's audience was an older reflection of the crowd I was in the first time I saw Nicks on tour. There were no young children here to hand Stevie a stuffed bear on stage, or admirers to hand her bouquets of flowers. This near capacity crowd of 40 to 60 something's had literally grown up alongside their muse. They had felt her pain of cocaine, pill and alcohol addiction. They had suffered through their heroine's relentless battles with her weight and her six-year writer's block. This devoted audience of some 5,900 admirers genuinely loved Stevie Nicks because her music truly had been the soundtrack to their own lives. When the lights went down, and the opening chords to "Stand Back" wafted through the sound system, the crowd just couldn't wait to show their appreciation.
I've never bought into any of the mystical analogies journalists love to heap on this Arizona native. As she twirled and twisted her way to the front of the stage, I don't think I've ever seen a shawl appear so sexy. Over the many years, the press has taken great pride in portraying the singer as every type of witch you can think of. The trance-like moves Stevie exhibited approaching the mic stand seems to have justified the spiritual metaphors she's often associated with. However, when you get right down to it, the words that scribes use to define Stevie Nicks mean absolutely nothing. What has endeared this 'white-winged dove' to her legion of fans isn't the media's creative verbiage of Nick's stage persona. It is the soulful and heartfelt poetry she beautifully dresses up, as a song, that has kept the faithful, well, faithful decade after decade.
This particular night would see two sides of Stevie Nicks emerge. The mildly irritated chanteuse was the first one to surface after a rollicking 'Stand Back" opened the show. Flanked by long-time guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Carlos Rios, she complained to the near-capacity crowd about the Texas heat. Thanks Stevie, but you don't need to remind people, who have just lived through 40 straight days of 100 plus temperatures, how uncomfortable that can be. Second, we're glad that thunderstorm at the Sturgis bike rally didn't blow you off the stage the night before. And third, berating people in the front rows for taking pictures of you is a tad bit insulting, especially when they paid an over-inflated $250 per ticket to sit there. Next time you should 'stand back' and let them follow their 'dreams' before you start singing the song yourself. They certainly paid for it (including a price gauging $20 to park as well).
With the aid of her long time back-up singers, sister-in-law Lori Nicks and Sharon Celani, Stevie finally settled down with "Sorcerer", a tune she wrote back in her days with duet partner Lindsey Buckingham. From that point on, she mixed in several cuts from her highly praised new album, In Your Dreams. Though this disc has been critically praised, this audience was more interested in the older, more comfortable classics which have kept them deeply connected as time marched on. "Landslide," "Gold Dust Woman" and "Rhiannon" brought this crowd to its feet as they sang every word with just as much emotion and power as author of the music herself. In fact, "Landslide" proved to be an especially poignant tune as images of Stevie's father were projected on a giant screen behind her.
Before I go any further, I need to say this. Stevie Nicks looks damn good at age 63, and I mean that with the greatest reverence. As I alluded to earlier, I've never seen anyone make a simple shawl look sexy. As the vocalist fluttered about the stage, so did the hearts of her admirers who followed her every move. This crowd knew all about their heroine. That knowledge, in a sense, has empowered them to bond and truly love this singer / songwriter. Outside of a momentary lapse of reason, with some well-intentioned shutterbugs up front, Nicks returned the love in kind.
One of the best light-hearted moments of the evening occurred with the hit "Leather and Lace". Nicks told the audience this was a particular tune she really loved to sing. She couldn't perform the song in concert because "the guy she sang it with never comes on tour with her." The obvious reference was made about Don Henley, and considering he lives in Dallas, you almost expected him to walk on stage at that very moment. Instead, her vocal coach, Steve Real, did the honors. He captured the essence of Henley just fine.
The 14-song set ended with the classic, "Edge of Seventeen." The entire crowd jumped to their feet and sang-a-long for this extended classic. Ms. Nicks even changed into a beautiful flowing white dress. The encore was somewhat of a let down. Nicks explained she wanted to end the show with a heartfelt kiss, aka ballad, rather than a rocker. It would have been a perfect spot to play "Sara." Instead, the crowd got the little known tune "Love Is" from the Trouble in Shangri-La album.
As I was walking out of the venue, I overheard a couple say how special it had been for them to see Stevie looking so full of life on stage. The show had taken them on a wonderful trip back through time. As I saw these 50-something year olds walk away into the night holding hands, I realized their observation had been spot on. It had been 25 years since I last saw a less that stellar performance by Stevie Nicks. Tonight, however, was an entirely different story. Stevie Nicks has found her second wind, and then some.<