Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Worst prediction ever? Could be. Back in June 1984, I went to a Lionel Richie concert at which Tina Turner opened. At that point she’d just begun a comeback, but this hadn’t gone anywhere yet. I respected her for her earlier career, but didn’t expect much of her new material.
In fact, I thought very little of her prospects. The cut-out bins are littered with comeback attempts from has-beens; why should Tina have been any different? As such, when she introduced one song as her next single, I muttered to myself that she should give it up and gracefully fade into the background.
That single? “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, the biggest hit of 1984, and the song that helped make Tina’s 1984 album Private Dancer a huge success. The record spawned additional smashes like the title track and “Better Be Good to Me” and quickly made Tina one of the world’s biggest stars.
As such, it’s a good thing she didn’t turn to me for advice or else she’d have spent the last 20 years knitting. While Tina couldn’t repeat the enormous success of Private Dancer in subsequent years, she still maintained a nice little career for herself.
Allegedly, Tina finally decided to retire from live performances after her 2000 world tour documented on the One Last Time video. Quite a lot of live Tina can be found on video, though not all of it has seen the light of day on DVD. Most desirable for me would be Private Dancer Live program, mainly because it includes an appearance from David Bowie.
For home theater fans, however, another program stands as the most popular Tina work. That would be Live In Amsterdam - Wildest Dreams Tour, a document from her 1995 outing. Shot during three shows at the enormous Amsterdam Arena - which is really more of a stadium, as it apparently holds about 50,000 people - this package sold a lot of copies due in its laserdisc incarnation. It was one of the earliest DTS concert DVDs and earned high regard due to its audio.
I admit I was one of those patrons. My days as an active Tina fan are long behind me. Despite my negativity at the Lionel Richie show, I became a moderate fan of her Private Dancer era work and stuck around through 1986’s Break Every Rule. However, that album seemed pretty flat, and I lost interest in her new material from later years. 1986 was the last time I saw Tina live as well; in addition to the Richie concert, I went to 1985 and 1986 performances at which Tina headlined.
As such, it really was the DTS appeal that led me to purchase the LD of Amsterdam; the clearance sale price of $15 didn’t hurt either. Anyway, Amsterdam features an entire show from September 1996. Since Tina played three nights at the arena, it’s possible the program compiles numbers from more than one concert, but you won’t detect any potential cuts here, as it looks like a seamless package.
We definitely get a full-length concert, with 21 songs included. We find a reasonably good mix of old and then-new tunes, though I wasn’t wild about the pacing. Of the first six tracks, only one of them - the Sixties classic “River Deep, Mountain High” - came from prior to 1995. The other five - “Whatever You Want”, “Do What You Do”, “Missing You” and “In Your Wildest Dreams” and “GoldenEye” - are off of Wildest Dreams. (That last tune while also appeared in the 1995 James Bond film of the same name.
Though none of the songs seemed bad, I thought this was a lackluster way to launch the show. Actually, in a way, it makes sense to start a performance with less familiar work; the audience’s excitement can carry the day and enable these tunes to earn a stronger reception than they’d get later in the performance. Nonetheless, these tracks are too bland to make the concert seem very interesting in the early moments. I respect Turner for trying to remain current, but the material wasn’t good enough to get the show going.
After “GoldenEye”, however, matters started to improve as Tina explores her ample catalog. Decent performances of “Private Dancer” and 1985’s hit single “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (from the soundtrack of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, in which Tina also starred) began to create a higher level of energy, but the show didn’t really become interesting until the next segment.
Tina used the old “unplugged” format to sit down and belt out some tracks in more intimate arrangements. One might expect this to be dull compared to her high-stepping and frantic performances to date, but surprisingly, I thought this section seemed more entertaining than the material that preceded it. For the first third of the show, there seemed to be too much emphasis on flash and sparkle. Tina surrounded herself with three sexy female dancers and did her best to provide a stadium spectacular.
That’s fine, but it took too much of the emphasis off of her own personality. Once she calmed down and went “unplugged”, her talents became more evident. This set included “Let’s Stay Together” and “I Can’t Stand the Rain” from Private Dancer, “Undercover Agent for the Blues” and “Steamy Windows” from 1989’s Foreign Affair, and a cover of “Givin’ It Up For Your Love”. The semi-stripped down arrangements worked for the tunes, and the absence of dancers and supersonic lights made this mini-set very entertaining.
Tina capitalized off of that energy for much of the rest of the show. Amsterdam went into a fiery “Better Be Good to Me”, though it sagged it a bit with a superfluous cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and Tina’s own soggy “The Best”; maybe I’ve just heard in too many car commercials, but that song always seemed bland and unmemorable.
Nonetheless, Tina rebounded well with the last few songs of the main set. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” remains a good tune - though the clip seemed to include an odd edit - and chestnuts “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits” proved that they could still excite a crowd. The latter went on for too long as Tina endlessly exhorted the crowd to join in, but it was still a good moment.
Unfortunately, the show ended on a fairly drab note with two lackluster tracks from Wildest Dreams. “On Silent Wings” and “Something Beautiful Remains” finished the evening with fairly dull and bland tunes. Neither song seemed terrible, but like much of Wildest Dreams, the tunes simply suffered from a general malaise.
The biggest problem with the setlist revolved around the bunching of the hits. The show would have moved better if Tina had varied the pacing. She also really could use a stronger band. The performers all seemed to be solid professionals, many of whom played with Tina for years; longtime fans will recognize hunky multi-instrumentalist Timmy Cappello and keyboardist Kenny Moore. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much spark to this group. They recreated the songs acceptably well but never brought a great deal of life to them.
As filmed by veteran concert video director David Mallet, Amsterdam also suffered from a degree of blandness as a program. Mallet went with conservative and predictable decisions across the board. Mainly we saw close-ups of Tina intercut with shots of her dancers; occasional band images interspersed as well, with an unsurprising emphasis on Capello, the only visually-distinct member of the band. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Mallet also showed far too many shots of the video monitor at the back of the stage. I guess Mallet thought he could have his cake and eat it too; he could show images of the entire stage, while the video display projected tighter scenes. Unfortunately, it just appeared distracting since the pixilated quality of the screen looked poor.
To be certain, Amsterdam wasn’t a poor representation of the concert. It just appeared fairly lackluster for the most part. Many elements of the production looked interesting, but the bland direction undercut these. Tina Turner was a very good live performer, but Live In Amsterdam only partially displayed her talents. Some aspects of the program appeared impressive and entertaining, but the show lacked much to make it special. Ultimately it offered a reasonably interesting but unspectacular experience.