DOLLY PARTON at the Molson Amphitheatre, September 1. Tickets: $45-$55. Attendance: 5000. Rating: NNNN
Dolly Parton has a gold-plated banjo. She performs in front of a rose-patterned backlit stage set, her name spelled out in twinkly lights. She has a coordinated set of iridescent white instruments - from autoharp to fiddle - spattered with glitter to match her flashy, trashy gown, and she dresses her band in suede-and-denim peasant outfits that look like they came from a Medieval Times fire sale. Parton has hot-pink press-on nails that somehow don't interfere with her ability to fingerpick a mean bluegrass riff, and a tinkly giggle she uses to punctuate every groaner in her seamlessly scripted stage show. She's the predecessor of every multimedia pop tart who embarks on an arena tour with a choreographed display of pyrotechnic overstimulation.
She can also draw stadium-sized guffaws for a cheesy one-liner. Apologizing for the frog in her throat, our girl quipped, "I've been singin' from my diaphragm. Maybe I should talk from my IUD!" Top that, Carolyn Mark!
But there's more to her than kitschy shtick. Not only is the Tennessee Mountain songbird one of the finest crossover songwriters of the 20th century, but she also possesses a pure, clear warble that upstages every gimmick she pulls out of her (colour-coordinated) handbag.
That lilting voice made it almost possible to buy her awkward Fiddler On The Roof-style arrangement of Mary Hopkin's hit Those Were The Days, the saccharine karaoke version of Crimson And Clover and her mawkish duet on If I Were A Carpenter. All of which, she reminded us repeatedly, will be available on her upcoming CD, Those Were The Days, a collection of oldies but goodies from the 60s and 70s.
If those covers were a bit misguided, Parton fared better with her soulful country spin on Where Have All The Flowers Gone and the reverent (and surprisingly de-schmaltzed) Imagine that closed the show like a Baptist revival meeting, raised arms and all.
Though Parton covered some classic tunes, her own originals were superlative. No Dumb Blonde, she knew just what she was doing when she lassoed the kooky crowd (which ranged from blue-haired grannies to nearly every campy queer in the city) with the bouncy one-two punch of 9 To 5 and Jolene two songs into the set.
And when she sat down for more intimate versions of songs that forged her pre-bombshell hillbilly persona, like Tennessee Mountain Home and Coat Of Many Colours, accompanying herself on just autoharp and acoustic guitar, you understood completely how Dolly earned the right to write her name in lights.