Growing old in the spotlight isn't easy. Fans can be so unkind. Put on a few extra pounds, start losing your hair — people talk. Stars don't have to die young to retain our respect, but for every Audrey Hepburn aging gracefully there's a hundred Burt Reynoldses spritzing their toupees with Aqua Net. Decaying icons still hungry for the limelight can do no better than tour San Francisco. Here, we are kind. And we love a good freak show.
An exceptional cross-section of Bay Area music fans turned out for the long-awaited, if not really expected, Nancy Sinatra comeback show last week at the Fillmore. Jason Mecier's macaroni portrait of dear Nancy greeted the crowd as hippies (including one gentleman who hadn't been to the Fillmore “since Cream in '68”) rubbed elbows with drag queens, punkers, suit-clad hipsters, little kids, and couples old enough to be grandparents.
In a cloud of smoke and a wash of light, Sinatra hit the stage in sunglasses, a black leather miniskirt, a bad dye-job, and, of course, boots. Opening with the shout, “It's the Fill-fuckin'-more,” she quickly dispelled the belief that she was all kitschy cuteness and go-go innocence. Sinatra stripped off her sunglasses and leather jacket to reveal a woman wholeheartedly determined to fight Mother Nature. She moved gracelessly, even a bit painfully, trying to maintain a sex-symbol image with little bumps and grinds, but the audience remained adoring and good-natured. Riding that awe-factor, she even got away with a few new country songs before anyone knew what hit 'em. Then Nancy quickly wound her way back into older numbers like “Friday's Child” and “Love Is a Stranger.” “Are there any veterans here tonight?” she asked. Well, it worked in Vietnam.
Apart from when the fabulous, deep-throated Lee Hazlewood joined Sinatra onstage for classics like “Summer Wine,” the experience was akin to seeing a bad bar band headed by your mom. But, even to Hazlewood's apparent surprise, that factor in no way depreciated the intense enjoyment dear Nancy inspired. San Franciscans love a cause.
A generation younger, former Stray Cat Lee Rocker swaggered onto the DNA Lounge stage with his suit jacket buttoned and a cigarette between his teeth, grabbed his stand-up bass, and spun her around. The cigarette may have been wrong, as awkward and contrived as if it were someone else's prop, but the bass was a perfect fit. “Call me Lee Rocker/ Rock me all night long,” he sang, pulling those I'm-really-into-this Pugsy expressions that you gotta love.
As the swing crowd hit the floor, the ex-punks and straights who had segregated themselves upstairs craned over the balcony. No doubt about it, Lee knows his stand-up: He twirled it, leaned on it, sat on it, and plucked it for all it was worth, spanking out some mean rockabilly tunes. With the floorboards thumping, it was relatively easy to overlook the fact that the beer-gutted Rocker is actually beginning to resemble his instrument. Things got stickier when he insisted on combing his thinning locks between songs. Worse yet, he was eventually overcome by the need to sing the blues. Though instrumentally beyond reproach, Rocker's voice is nearly as thin as his hair when it comes to the blues. With no one left on the dance floor to distract us, the sad truth hit home: A former Stray Cat was getting fat and playing DNA for six bucks.
Luckily for Chris Isaak, when his looks go to hell his silver tonsils should carry him through. Isaak's sold-out Bimbo's 365 Club appearance last week was attended primarily by ex-Triangle drinkers who have moved into a higher income tax bracket but still like to catch a “hot” show. Sequined shirts and heavy hair spray were the unwritten dress code. The ladies in the house had obviously dragged their boyfriends/husbands there, forcing them to stand in line for several hours first to guarantee tickets. Then the women immediately fell to swooning and squealing while their dates were left to mumble things like, “He does have a great vocal range,” to each other.
Apart from the first row of spectators (mostly women) who stood transfixed by Isaak's close proximity, the crowd was intent on socializing, slamming shots, spilling drinks on each other, talking loudly about how they hadn't seen each other in years, and screeching mightily at the start of every romantic number (that would be most of them). There was no escape from the din of drunken conversation; even while dancing, people shouted at one another or, even worse, sang, butchering the silvery notes of “Wicked Game” and “Blue Hotel.”
Though Isaak lacked the musical intensity to rein these folks in, he was more successful with light banter such as, “Hey, does anyone live in the Richmond? You wanna give me ride home?” and “This is the classiest joint in town. If Frank Sinatra weren't such a bitter man, he would be playing here.” And if Ol' Blue Eyes were really a good sport, he would've done a double bill with Nancy.
By Silke Tudor