Thursday, 13 March 2014

Ronnie Spector: Beyond the Beehive at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

/ The Ronettes in 1964: Nedra, Ronnie and Estelle /

1960s girl group survivor (and definitive hair hopper role model) Ronnie Spector brought her Beyond the Beehive revue to London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday (9 March 2014). I’d never seen the former Ronettes front-woman perform before, so I leapt at the chance.

While it was bound to be fascinating, I went with lowered expectations: I remembered reading a review of her London appearance in 2008, where an apparently ailing Spector was forced to sing while seated throughout and her voice was reportedly shot. It’s gratifying to report, then, that 70-year old Spector (introduced as “the rose from Spanish Harlem”) was a torrent of energy and raw emotion and on majestic and miraculously rejuvenated form. In brief: mondo teased haystack of bouffant hair, mondo cleavage and most importantly – mondo raspy soaring heartbreaking voice.

The show alternated between songs (Spector’s powerful backing band nicely evoked her 1960s records’ signature lush wall of sound) and audiovisual autobiographical segments. During the latter, Spector reminisced about her tumultuous marriage with deranged musical genius Phil Spector (unsurprisingly, tales of her vengeful ex-husband – the man who made her and then did his damnedest to break her – dominated), her years with the Ronettes, legal woes and her chronically thwarted solo career (Spector is pop’s ultimate heartbreak kid), illustrated with slideshows and videos projected on a giant screen behind her. If you've read Spector’s autobiography Be My Baby you’re probably familiar with many of her anws and videos projected on a screen behind her.  career (Spector is pop'ulto be fascinatecdotes. But the book came out in the early nineties: since then, Phil Spector has been imprisoned for murder, the Ronettes were belatedly inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and co-Ronette (and Ronnie’s sister) Estelle died.

/ Beehive with a Voice: Ronnie Spector photographed by Dennis Hopper (yes, that Dennis Hopper) in the 1960s, while husband/producer Phil Spector glowers in the background /

Opening with “Walking in the Rain”, the musical part of the night was pretty damn sublime. The Ronettes’ best-loved hits “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You” were reserved for the encore. Spector slayed me when she sang The Ramones’ “She Talks to Rainbows” (Joey Ramone was her biggest champion. The punks always got her).  Then she made me cry with “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” by Johnny Thunders. Mostly for Spector's wrenching interpretation, but also the bittersweet visual accompaniment: grainy old Super 8 home movies of the very young Ronettes cavorting and laughing, so beautiful and full of hope.

Hearing her tear through her back catalogue made me think about the lineage of Ronnie Spector's yearning urgent voice: it connects 1950s doo wop (she’s cited Frankie Lymon of The Teenagers as her primary influence) to 1960s girl groups to the Beach Boys (Brian Wilson wrote “Don't Worry Baby” with her in mind; Phil Spector refused to let the Ronettes record it) to Johnny Thunders, The Ramones, Blondie and Jesus and Mary Chain (the “Be My Baby” drum beat), to the girlish helium coo of early Madonna (who said at the beginning of her career, “I like to look the way Ronnie Spector sounded: sexy, hungry, totally trashy”) and Holly Golightly and Amy Winehouse (for one of her encores Ronnie sang a heartfelt "Back to Black", probably more beautifully than Winehouse herself usually managed). 

Ronnie Spector’s (white frosted) lipstick traces are all over pop history. It was wonderful to see the present-day quintessential 1960s bad girl transformed into an exultant, wise and serene earth mother, exuding joie de vivre.

/ Photography was forbidden at the concert, but my friend Vivien managed to snatch this /

Read The Guardian's five star review of Ronnie Spector's Beyond the Beehive concert here

/ Below: I recommend you crank this up LOUD /

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