It’s hard to be an opening act for a superstar, especially one as famous as Stevie Nicks. No matter how good you are as a performer, the audience has paid to see the headliner, and they are waiting for your act to end so the headliner can begin. At Jones Beach Theater last night, as temperatures dipped into the low 60’s (perhaps the 50’s with the brisk wind chill),Chris Isaak caught every one’s attention. It was not only cold, but the orchestra section was flooded calf-deep in water. Nearly all of the high-priced orchestra ticket holders huddled in the VIP tent, with many more concert-goers staying put in their cars (or waiting to get into and out of the parking lot–a process that seemed stupidly sluggish) until it was time for Stevie Nicks to perform. Mr. Isaak (who my husband thinks looks like a young Lindsey Buckingham and I think channels James Dean and Elvis), seemed unfazed, and charmed the crowd that filtered slowly in.
Joking that he had once played “in shoe stores,” (my personal trainer, former NFL football player Carl Ditmars, recalls that Isaak once played a gig in Ditmars’ garage,) Issac is no newcomer, having released nine albums and has been nominated for two Grammy awards. This tour with Stevie Nicks should win him a whole lot of new fans. Isaak is not only a a very personable performer, but his style is a bit of Roy Orbison and a bit of Buddy Holly, with a bit of Memphis “Sun Studios” mixed in. He’s “rockabilly most modern.” Last night he wore a turquoise suit with white, rhinestone-studded diamonds, probably designed by Manuel. Getting personal with the audience, Isaak rolled up his designer pants and waded barefoot through the water, all the way to the top sections of the stadium. Once back on stage, he invited the cold, wet audience closest to him to perch on the side of the stage to stay dry. He even bantered with a woman who jumped onstage to show off her dancing “talents.” We were (almost) sorry when his set ended, and it was time for Stevie Nicks. He worked his way through about an hour of country, rock and rockabilly numbers including the haunting song, “Wicked Game,” showing his versatility, and enchanting the audience See video
After a brief set up and sound check, it was finally time for Stevie Nicks to take the stage. She arrived, in a burst of bright stage lights. “This is probably the most clothes I’ve worn onstage in more than 20 years” the obviously freezing Stevie Nicks joked. The majority of the audience however, mostly inadequately dressed for the weather, might have been envious of the singer’s multiple layers of vintage velvet: coat, shawl, hat, scarf, and gloves. As a brisk wind whipped the streamers on her microphone, Ms. Nicks warmed up the audience’s hearts at least, with an opener of “Stand Back,” followed by other favorites such as “Dreams.” I didn’t make notes of the entire play list for the evening, but I think it’s fairly standard for this, her “Crystal Visions” tour (promoting album of the same name):
“If Anyone Falls in Love”
“Gold Dust Woman”
“I Need To Know”
“Fall From Grace”
“Still of the Night”
“Edge of Seventeen”
“Rock and Roll”
“Beauty and the Beast”
It was virtually impossible in all those clothes for Stevie to do her trademark “whirls.” Unlike her younger days and and more energetic (naturally- induced or not) performances, last night’s performance was pretty low key. Nicks mianly stood in place, trying to keep her hat on her blonde hair, and hugging the microphone stand. It could have just been that Ms. Nicks was just cold (a fact she mentioned several times). It also could be that finally, the eternally youthful Ms. Nicks has just slowed down…a bit.
In reviewing some video of Stevie Nicks in years’ past (here is a 1983 video of “Stand Back”) it appears that despite the frenetic whirling and gesticulating that made her riviting in those days, Ms. Nicks was often singing with a vacant expression, in a world of her own. Last night she seemed to really connect with the audience, and was aware of what she was doing, and why. True, now her musical arrangements keep the notes in an easier, middle range, and she can’t belt them out like she used to, but there’s still that sweet vibrato in her voice, and her ageless look of an ocean gypsy. Perhaps this legendary star who has spent so many decades as a performer, is free to broadcast a peaceful maturity. She no longer has to be a “vision” but to simply,to be herself. (more recent video from the ELLEN Show of “Stand Back”)
By the end of the last song at Jones Beach, the audience was visibly shaking under makeshift tents of blankets (some covered with pet hair–obviously pulled from the trunks of cars as a last resort to stay warm), or with their arms wrapped around each other. They were enthusiastic, and virtually no one left. Still, the unexpected cold spell sapped the overall energy level, especially considering the magnitude of Nicks, one of the most successful female artists in rock history. At the very end of the night, Nicks thanked the audience for sticking with her throughout the years, and throughout the concert. She said “this renews my faith in music.” Actually, her graceful performance might just have renewed her fan’s faith in her.
No alcohol served, paltry concessions, and inadequate bathroom facilities (not to mention the unpredictability of the weather) don’t make Jones Beach my first choice to hear a concert. On a good night, I’m told you can smell the brine-y air, and enjoy a beautiful evening listening to great music under the stars. In the original design, the theater had a “moat” and the stage was actually on the ocean and separated from the beach. Performers could be brought to the stage by boat. Last night, boats would have been useful for those in the orchestra. Despite the negatives, the sightlines are good, and the sound quality is excellent–well balanced, clear, amazingly sharp for an open air arena. I could clearly hear all of the instruments without any distortion, even Ms. Nicks’ tambourine, even though I was sitting high above the stage.
The Jones Beach Theater originally opened in 1952, designed to specifications provided by Robert Moses, who also created Jones Beach State Park. In 1991 and 1992, under contract from concert promoter Ron Delsener, the was extensively renovated, with the additional of a second level and then again in 1998 to a third level. It now has 15,000 seats and bears the sponsorship of Nikon.
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