Dolly Parton proves, seven decades into her career, that she's still at the top of her game with a spectacular Sydney show.
Dolly Parton @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, 18 February 2014
Dolly Parton is an eclectic and utterly unique individual. It’s apparent from the show’s glitzy, arena-sized opening. ‘Baby I’m Burning’, a disco/country crossover, fills the stage with splashy energy, before twisting its way through a gauntlet of pop snippets from various eras, finally settling on a recent Alicia Keys cover. And that’s just the first number.
At 68, Dolly Parton is touring Blue Smoke, her 42nd studio album. That’s a long career with an astonishing catalogue of music, and it allows her to piece together any kind of set list she wants. For this tour, it’s a grab bag of different eras, approaches and influences spanning from country standards to brand new pop. Not to mention, of course, the hits.
It could be a mess in the wrong hands, but Dolly has a stunning charisma that not only holds it all together, but weaves it into a cohesive and consistently engaging two-hour show. It all comes down to her personality, and there’s something effortlessly welcoming about her presence on stage. Seemingly always at ease, she spends much of the night offering extended anecdotes and stories that, told in front of 13,000 people and almost certainly not for the first time, somehow still feel spontaneous and intimate.
Dolly’s world is one of Tennessee at its most ostentatious, full of both decadent glamour and homespun reflection. Authenticity is a divisive topic in pop and often those two elements are placed at odds with each other, but Dolly incorporates them both into a brassy, magnetic personality, leveraging artifice as part of her charm. Joking at one point about her extensive plastic surgery, she sums her approach up in a characteristic quip – “The only thing real about me is my heart… hopefully that’s good enough.”
Both of those sides are reflected in her repertoire, too. There are the cozy, old-fashioned classics like ‘Jolene’, ‘Coat of Many Colours’ and a number of country and gospel standards, and there are the more extravagant approaches. Some of them, like pop-focused singles ‘Two Doors Down’ and ‘Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That’, create a great spectacle, while a few outliers, like a puzzling cover of Collective Soul’s ‘Shine’, don’t work quite so well.
But it’s the show’s closing run that brings these two sides together and delivers the biggest responses. Ubiquitous singles ‘Islands In The Stream’ and ‘9 to 5’ show Dolly Parton at her pop star best, and the closing ‘I Will Always Love You’ isn’t just a highlight, but a reclamation of her most-covered song.
It’s deserved. After all, Dolly has seen an unparalleled seven decades of showbiz, and she’s still filling arenas, charm fully intact.