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Tough girl: Nancy Sinatra at Revolution Hall. Photo by Chris Shields.

You Got It, Sweetheart!
By Kirsten Ferguson

Nancy Sinatra
Revolution Hall, May 14

In the late 1960s, Nancy Sinatra shaped her career around a supposed contradiction. Sporting signature thigh-high go-go boots and hip mod outfits, Sinatra traded on her beauty and her undeniable sex appeal. By virtue of her looks and her (also beautiful) voice alone, Sinatra could have turned out to be just another pop performer, albeit one with a very famous father. But the woman had attitude. With her first hit, 1966’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” Sinatra let the boys know that she played by her own rules.

These days, a beautiful woman adopting a tough-girl stance may not be such a novelty. But, as I realized during Sinatra’s show at Revolution Hall in Troy last Wednesday, it’s still a revelation to watch a performer who so effortlessly balances sexy self-assurance with softhearted graciousness. The fans who filled the hall, from the bluehairs in the downstairs seats to the younger rockers in the upper balcony, seemed to feel the same way. From the time she came out on stage in tight jeans and a stars-and-stripes jacket (she’s a longtime supporter of American veterans), Sinatra was bombarded with declarations of love from the audience, mainly from adoring women. Shouts of “We love you, Nancy!” and “You look beautiful, Nancy!” rang out in the hall during nearly every quiet moment in the set.

After taking decades off from music to raise her daughters, Sinatra revived her career in 1995. Post-comeback, she tends to eschew the lush orchestral arrangements of her old recordings for straight-up rock & roll renditions of her hits. Backed by a full rock band that included Blondie drummer Clem Burke, guitarists Lanny Cordola and Gilby Clarke (formerly of Guns N’ Roses), bassist Tom Lilly and her longtime keyboardist Don Randi, Sinatra opened the set with “The Last of the Secret Agents,” one of her early recordings with iconoclastic songwriter Lee Hazelwood, who penned most of her chart-toppers (he never made it to No. 1 without her).

After performing a couple of new songs that were penned by her bandmates Lilly and Cordola, Sinatra flexed her assertiveness on Kasey Chambers’ “Barricades and Brickwalls,” a menacing ode to romantic obsession. She preceded “Sixty Minute Man,” a raunchy R&B tune about a man who gives good lovin’ with a bit of banter about how, as a girl, she would hide under the covers late at night to listen to risqué R&B on the radio.

Sinatra stood to the side and let Burke take center spotlight during his monstrous drum solo on “Drummer Man,” and the singer became briefly melancholic to dedicate a song to her deceased father (“It’s been five years to the day,” she said), before segueing into Hazelwood’s “Tony Rome.”

Her voice in perfect form, Sinatra also strutted her sexpot persona, whether unleashing a feline growl during “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?” or shamelessly flirting with goateed guitarist Clarke. She also revealed her engaging sense of humor, announcing amusingly at one point that she’s looking for love (“If you think I’m not advertising, think again”), and made light of her movie career. During her rendition of “Good Time Girl,” a montage of Sinatra’s movie appearances (she was in seven films) projected on a screen to the side of the stage. Although she mocked her “illustrious” film career from the stage, the clips only reinforced Sinatra’s place in the pantheon of cool. She rode on the back of a motorcycle with Peter Fonda in The Wild Angels and made out with Elvis in Speedway—how cool is that?

Apologizing to the audience for her white tennis shoes, a concession to comfort following recent knee surgery, Sinatra closed her set with a series of old hits, including hard-rock versions of “Sugar Town” and “Lightning’s Girl” and the James Bond theme song “You Only Live Twice.” Thirteen-year-old child guitar prodigy Holden Truelove joined the band onstage for “Boots,” which turned into an extended jam session for the backing musicians as Sinatra ran around the stage snapping pictures of her band. She then waved goodbye and closed the set with her very first single to make the charts, “So Long, Babe.”

 

Lukewarm

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age
Pepsi Arena, May 17

If you pressed a big mute button when the Red Hot Chili Peppers hit the stage at the Pepsi last weekend, you received the same explosive, obnoxious force whose funk/rap/punk-ass autism and salacious attack hurt your sternum and made your face flush. With full audio, however, Flea’s midair splits and Anthony Kiedis’ rain dances didn’t seem as dissolute to “Zephyr Song” or “Don’t Forget Me” than when knocking mikestands over with “Magic Johnson” or “Nobody Weird Like Me.” Over the course of the past four or five years, it has been pretty clear that the new paradigm, albeit intricate and tasteful, involves songs written solely around same-sounding, inveterate bass runs to which Kiedis has actually learned to sing (I remember laughing at the prospect in the early ’90s). It works for them, as evidenced by the capacity crowd, but I left feeling a little like a kid at a carnival that wants the big stuffed dragon but can only win fake tattoos.

There were exceptions, of course: The total arse-crumpling “Around the World,” the frenetic toad-licker “Can’t Stop,” perennial Hillel-era show-closer “Me and My Friends,” and a gratifying version of the Ramones’ “Havana Affair.” But after these, the evening’s tone was one of healing, nurturing, most of the bold-chinned attitude replaced with slow dances like “Scar Tissue” and “By the Way” as if Mother’s Milk never even existed—likewise for Blood Sugar Sex Magic. Indeed, both classics were all but ignored, exchanged for Orbisonesque jingle-jangle and bittersweet ballads— sing-alongs that coincidentally began with the latter album’s “Under the Bridge.”

Yet it seems unfair to dismiss the direction RHCP have taken as an unapologetic sellout, because to do so betrays the intimacy with which the material is delivered, the texture of each song carefully layered and rendered both profoundly filthy and ethereal by John Frusciante’s fête of six-string miscegenation and drummer Chad Smith’s octopus roll-through (Frusciante has this broken-Pinocchio way of dancing with his Strat that makes you want to try it too, even though you know it would send you to the infirmary). The music remains quite beautiful, but not in the way that makes you want to build houses and wreck them with a bulldozer in an afternoon, which is my criteria for good music in any genre. Making music for RHCP is obviously still serious business (not to mention that every member is an absolute monster on his tool of trade), but they are in a very different musical space than in previous incarnations.

Another great thing about the Chili Peppers is their willingness (unlike Kiss and other Brontosauruses) to give fans a decent opener with full sound. Queens of the Stone Age, fresh off a successful U.S. headliner, were only too glad to baffle the whitecaps with searing, indefatigable stuff from their latest, Songs for the Deaf, and surprise live rarities like “Mexicola.” There stood a band at the peak of their powers. Deafening. Mighty. Tighter than a favorite ring on a bloated finger. Utterly and fascinatingly coherent. Predictably, the general-admission floor crowd stood there like fools until the AOR closer “No One Knows,” and then all of a sudden people were crowd surfing. Message to these bastards: Stop listening to corporate radio. Buy a CD for once in your pitiful, empty lives.

—Bill Ketzer


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