Live Review: Dionne Warwick at Bridgewater Hall
By Jay Darcy
She’s Back: One Last Time.
It’s one thing seeing the legend that is Dionne Warwick… it’s another thing seeing her on her farewell tour. I get to tell my grandkids I saw Dionne Warwick. Not that they’ll have any idea who she is. Not that I plan to have kids – let alone grandkids. But you get the sentiment.
Warwick is a trailblazer, a groundbreaker, and one of the biggest-selling artists of all time. Whilst she’s not had the same longevity as pop culture icons like Cher, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton, she’s just not that kind of artist – but still, her icon status is undisputed.
“June 2022” has gotten me through the past year. In the space of just over a fortnight, I’m seeing Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Diana Ross – a holy trinity of Black female excellence. Even better – I got a last-minute invitation to see Queen + Adam Lambert days before Warwick. I’m in my legends phase, okay?
Warwick’s opening act was the wonderful Rachel John – the Olivier-nominated actress who originated the role of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton in the West End. Her other notable roles include Nicki Marron in the West End revival of The Bodyguard (where she sometimes played the lead, Rachel) and Mrs. Neilsen in the Toronto production and West End remount of Girl from the North Country. The former is based on the film of the same name and adds a few famous Whitney Houston songs to the mix, whilst the latter is the second musical to use the music of Bob Dylan (after The Times They are a-Changin’) – and it’s coming to Manchester later this year!
John treated us to a Dylan cover, an Emeli Sandé cover (‘My Kind of Love’), and a few gospel covers from her new album. I was not expecting John to sing a song from Hamilton – not the right crowd – but it could have been wise to show off her vocal range by covering a Whitney Houston song from The Bodyguard. However, John seemed to be going for more of a warm, welcoming vibe than a show-stopping, steal-the-spotlight opening set before the timeless Dionne Warwick took to the stage.
Indeed, what made John’s set so special was how utterly effortless it was! She sang her heart out, without any over-the-top riffs or howls. Her vocal control is exceptional. It’s no surprise to learn that her background is in musical theatre, but her voice is accessible and commercial; I hope she “makes it” as a mainstream artist, now that she seems to be stepping away from musical theatre.
After a short interval, Dionne Warwick took the stage. The audience showed the icon so much love as she slowly walked onstage, delicate and feeble, but without any assistance. She’s a trooper. She was showing us that she can do this on her own.
She opened her set with ‘Walk On By’ – a soul-soothing song that took older audience members back in time (and me, the youngest person in the audience, to a tie I never knew).
Warwick’s voice is, of course, not what it was – the legend is 81 years old – but it still sounds beautiful. There were little glimmers where we could hear the old Dionne (that is, the young Dionne). It was bittersweet: the woman is getting old and is losing her instrument, yet she’s still going, and she’s still kind-of got it. It was quite admirable seeing her give it her all at her old age – this is her passion, her love, her joy, and she’s not going to give it up (even though her days of touring are coming to an end).
She treated us to her biggest hits, such as ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’ and ‘I’ll Never Love This Way Again’. The audience were delighted when she began ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (she recorded the song originally, but Aretha Franklin’s cover the following year was a bigger hit). She sang this song as a duet with her drummer – who she later revealed was her eldest son!
Before singing ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’, she told us that she later recorded the song as a duet with the late, great Celia Cruz – and she sang this (extra Latin) musical arrangement. Ironically, Warwick is not fond of this “dumb” song or fan favourite ‘Heartbreaker’ – she said she “cried all the way to the bank”.
The audience joyfully sang along to ‘Heartbreaker’. It’s my aunty’s favourite Warwick song, and in the last few days before the concert, it somehow became mine (though just before the concert, I realised how much I loved ‘No Night So Long’, which sadly she did not sing).
The last part of the concert was about healing the world. She began the section with the little known ‘If I Want To’, before covering ‘We Are the World’ by supergroup USA for Africa (which she was a part of) – the USA’s answer to the UK’s Band Aid (‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’). This was followed by her cover of ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’ – written by Bacharch and David, who wrote many of her hits, she rejected it, only to cover it after it became a hit.
She unsurprisingly ended the concert with her signature hit,’That’s What Friends Are For’ – a cover of the Rod Stewart song by herself, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder (billed as Dionne & Friends).
She then headed offstage, before taking a moment to wave goodbye to the audience. There was so much love and gratitude. She might not be selling out arenas like the aforementioned Cher, Parton and Ross, but she’s still going strong all these years later, selling out big music venues all around the world – and the love that her fans have for her, oh, is it strong.
One of her biggest fans is a lovely lady called Janey. She gifted Warwick a beautiful bouquet. This reminded me of a tweet I saw earlier that day – a woman had gifted Warwick a bouquet but neglected to tell her that it sat in water; Warwick placed it on the piano and accidentally turned it into a water feature!
Warwick then recounted this story. What I did not realise, though, was that it was the same woman! I only found out when I tweeted the woman to tell her that Warwick recounted the story. Safe to say, Warwick will never forget her – the water feature is pretty unforgettable!
The only issue with the concert was the sound; Warwick’s mic could have done with being turned up a notch because the music occasionally overpowered her. Everything else was perfect.
It was wonderful seeing the legendary Dionne Warwick for the first time – and the last.
She tours the UK until 10th June.