One Man's Perspective: Hello, I'm Dolly

December 10, 2004 • The HP Pavillion • San Jose, California

Hello, I'm Michael.

Before we get into the meat of it I should let you know that I waited months for the announcement and ticket sale heralding this tour. I bought my tickets in October (pre-sale, 4th row) and have waited patiently for 2 months to finally get to see Dolly Parton perform again.

I saw Dolly in 1976 at the Bottom Line in Manhattan where she autographed my friend's personal check on the signature line and we laughed about it. (It was the only piece of paper we had). This was around the time Light Of A Clear Blue Morning was released, and New York City was not known to be the panacea for country music that it is today.

Later on I saw Dolly in South Florida at Sunrise Musical Theater with my mother. This was sometime in the early 80s, I believe. There was a third time but, for the life of me, I can't remember when or where it was; which leads me to believe that I just imagined the whole thing. But that's a different essay entirely.

Point is - the creds are there.

Hello, I'm Dolly is an over-produced extravaganza of style over substance. At the beginning of the show, Dolly herself said that when she decided to tour again she wanted to basically make everyone happy. Do a little this, do a little that. Well, after entering to the strains of Hello, Dolly and singing some new lyrics to the tune, Dolly did just that: her first songs were 2 minute or less versions of Two Doors Down, 9 to 5, Why'd You Come In here Lookin' Like That, Jolene, and Here You Come Again. A little of this; a little of that.

I was aghast. My companion (who loves her but had never seen her) turned to me and whispered, "Is she going to sing a full song?" Admittedly, I wondered the same thing. This was not a medley; each song was introduced, and ended with applause. I was puzzled because I know Dolly likens her songs to her children. In fact, she mentioned just that later on in the concert. Isn't singing edited versions of her songs like submitting a child to plastic surgery?

(OK, I've been watching a bit too much Nip/Tuck but it's very addicting; I digress though.)

She did start performing longer songs though, singing such staples of the Parton repertoire as Shine, Smoky Mountain Memories, My Tennesse Mountain Home, The Grass Is Blue, Little Sparrow, Coat of Many Colors, and I WIll Always Love You. None of the renditions were more than paint-by-numbers. Dolly just never captured a real moment with these songs.

Almost like Blue Smoke, the title song from her forthcoming album which she also sang, the Dolly song locomotive never stopped - from one to the next, interspersed with her trademark 'self-deprecating yet always endearing' quips and homespun humor. Things came and went so quickly up there. You couldn't stop to feel what was happening in front of you.

It seemed a very scripted show. Each movement, line, and laugh felt exactly the same as it had most probably been performed the night before. She mentioned that the tour ends the 21st. Although she never let it be known through her patter and performance (always upbeat, jovial, comfortable), the performance felt to me like it was on autopilot.

I was jonesing for Dolly with just her guitar, and a moment to breathe.

Throughout the evening she sang a number of duets. With two-thirds of her band, The Grascals, she sang their new single, Viva Las Vegas (which is a piffle). With another member of her band (whose name escapes me), she sang a perfectly sugar-based version of Me and Bobby MacGee, a song her voice does not complement. With Richard Dennison, she badly lip-synced to her new duet (recorded with Rod Stewart), Baby, It's Cold Outside, sitting atop a white grand piano, wearing a feather boa and carrying a big martini glass with huge olives. (A few of many accessories she told us were in place of costume changes. See pictures above.)

Here I must give my thoughts on the lip-sync controversy. Dolly did lip-sync. In fact, it seemed to me she lip-synced alot. I've heard it mentioned that she has some medical problems which prevent her from singing for an entire evening. True or not, she might've been able to sing more if she chilled for a moment and took a breath herself. I didn't go to this show expecting to see an extravaganza on the scale of Cher's most recent Farewell Tour or Bette Midler's burlesques. I went to see an accomplished songwriter, instrumentalist, and singer. (See Nellie McKay.)

Don't get me wrong, she certainly displayed those talents. She has nothing to prove to me or anyone. She looks wonderful. She is at the top of her form, and has been for many years. I was enthralled just being in the same room with her. (Come on, those huge olives are mesmerizing!) Unfortunately, the wrapping was not worthy of the talent.

To round out the evening, Dolly performed a cute rendition of Melanie's Brand New Key for which she donned two small blonde pigtails. (More accessories. See pictures.) She also sang Rocky Top, and PMS Blues coupled with a re-written Burnin' Love for the women in the audience. Her version of John Lennon's Imagine was poignant but a bit questionable was Thank God, I'm A Country Girl with the band singing backup, "Thank God, I'm a country boy."

I was personally disappointed that she didn't do much material from her earlier country albums or her most recent bluegrass efforts. I expected a set list closer to the one recorded for her recently-released Live and Well CD. I would've gladly given up a sparkle or a spangle (or those misplaced duets) for Down From Dover, Me and Little Andy, I Get A Kick Out Of You, A Tender Lie, or Dumb Blonde. She encored with Hello, God, a song with which she obviously (yet inexplicably) wanted to leave the audience.

So, there you have it. Hello, I'm Dolly. The arena was maybe 65% full which was also disappointing; with San Francisco 45 minutes north, Monterey 45 minutes south, and ticket prices that were truly for the fans, someone was sleeping on the advertising bed.

I still love you, girl. In fact, I spent all morning going through the pictures I took last night, assembling this page, and finally putting my words to bits. It took me 5 hours and I spent the entire time listening to tons of your songs, both old and new. Nothing's changed there. (Not like when I saw Mavis Staples...oooyyyyy.)

But, wait, I feel I must close this soon-to-be previous chapter of Dolly and Michael with a listen to Peace Train (Holy Roller Mix). Sometimes style over substance can be a grand thing.

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Maintained and copyrighted 1994-2004 by Michael Teger.