LORETTA LYNN at Massey Hall, Saturday, September 15. Rating: NNN
Despite Loretta Lynn's iconic status in country music, tickets to Saturday's Massey Hall show did not sell well, leaving the upper balconies empty.
The tour - celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lynn's debut at the Grand Ole Opry, and a new box set culled from her 100+ records (she's also got a cookbook out) - falls between albums for the 80-year old singer and songwriter. Her last full-length, 2004's Van Lear Rose, was produced by Jack White; she's currently working on a new one with T-Bone Burnett, which sounds like it will be good.
Though it is wonderful to see Lynn, at all, at this point in her career, it seemed like a rough show for her, as she complained of a hurt foot and took awhile getting her vocal chords warmed up. (She said so herself, calling it "the worst show we've done on this trip"; I'm not entirely sure if she was joking).
Lynn covered an impressive amount of ground in an hour and a half, from early songs like Honky Tonk Girl and Blue Kentucky Girl to classics like You Ain't Woman Enough, Fist City, The Pill, Dear Uncle Sam, to Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn duets, and, of course, Coal Miner's Daughter, which fans were waiting for all night. But this was partly because her 8-piece backup band (all men) was rushing her, often interrupting her rambling but charming between-song banter by jumping into the next song.
I wanted to hear more of what Lynn had to say, for example, about how the Opry doesn't have country music anymore. That seemed like an apt subject, given her twin daughters, The Lynns's, pop-country opening set and the cheesy gospel-country songs her band pulled out to give her a break mid-set.
Lynn has still got it: a big voice with loads of character, songs whose titles tell you most of what you need to know, and tons of stories from her life. I just wish that her band had played more sensitively and quietly, allowing the great lyrics delivered in the lower part of Lynn's range to be heard.
Fans on the floor, however, ate the whole experience up, disregarding the seating plan and sneaking up in front of the stage one by one, and finally, in droves, to cheer Lynn on.