Friday, September 19th
Ronnie Spector brought her multi-media show ‘Beyond the Beehive’ to the Rialto yesterday, for a night of music and storytelling. Set-up as a sort of oral history, the night featured Spector tracing her career chronologically through a series of projected video clips, linked through her live narration, and interspersed with her performance of songs from each era, accompanied by a 4-piece band.
Spector rose to fame in the early 60’s as the voice behind the girl group The Ronettes, responsible for “Be My Baby,” unquestionably one of the greatest pop songs of all time. The band was so popular in the 60’s that The Rolling Stones opened for them, and The Beatles were genuine superfans. Unfortunately, her ascent was tragically brief, as her burgeoning relationship with her producer (and eventual husband) Phil Spector turned violent, resulting in Ronnie essentially being kept captive by Spector in his mansion for years.
At Friday’s show, a curious mixture of hipsters with Pop Montreal passes and middle-aged music fans were regaled with tales from Ronnie’s fascinating career, including her early years as a teen in Spanish Harlem, her terrifying abuse by Phil Spector, her “lost years” throughout most of the 80’s and 90’s, and her successful lawsuit against Spector for the rights to her music.
Spector’s voice was in fine form last night, having lost little of its power and grit over the years. With her trademark beehive towering over her, she had total command of the crowd, sashaying across the lisp of the stage in a tight dress, and repeatedly making eye-contact with the crowd, even those of us up in the balcony. However, the general construct of the show was basically a live version of VHI: Behind the Music, complete with moody background music to beef up the emotional resonance during many of Spector’s narrative breaks (which were read, sometimes clumsily, via an iPad attached to her mic stand). There is no doubt that Spector has some incredible tales, but her narration was often played way too big, resulting in some awkward attempts at humour, or worse, a number of seemingly fake (or at least played up) bouts of tearing up.
The night had a general air of excessive, Vegas-style showmanship, which is a shame given how revolutionary much of Spector’s early music was (and is). That said, the night provided some genuinely great moments of her recounting her experiences in the early 60’s, and though it was saved for the encore, watching Ronnie Spector bring down the house with a powerful version of “Be My Baby” was pretty awe-inspiring.
Montreal’s own Bloodshot Bill opened up the evening, and his one-band band combo of guitar and drums was a true lesson in back-to-basics rock n’ roll. His guttural rockabilly howlings may have bewildered some of the geriatrics in the crowd, but by the time he was whipping out a comb to slick his hair back mid-song, they had definitely come around to his stripped-down distillation of primal R’n’R.