LIVE REVIEW: Dionne Warwick in Lowell, MA (04.25.24)

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LIVE REVIEW: Dionne Warwick in Lowell, MA (04.25.24)

On Thursday night, the Middlesex Community College foundation hosted an evening of music with legendary singer Dionne Warwick at Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Board of Trustees members, MCC students, faculty and alumni, corporate sponsors like TJX Companies and the general public enjoyed the performance while raising money for college scholarships. As MCC President Phil Sisson said in his introduction, Middlesex Community College provides “affordable access to high quality education to diverse learners.” (fun facts: I’m an MCC alumna, (I got a bonus healthcare degree) and I work part-time at Marshall’s.

Dressed in a black suit, 83 year-old Warwick received a standing ovation as soon as she walked out on stage. Warwick quipped, “Thank you and good night.” Someone behind me yelled, “We love you Queen!” which she did repeatedly and disruptively throughout the performance. But that’s the norm, trying to involve yourself in a performance. Warwick is American music (and pop culture) royalty, but it was still a bit annoying. Burt Bacharach discovered Warwick while she was singing background vocals on a Drifters song in the early 60s. Warwick has won six Grammy awards and was a 2023 Kennedy Center Honor recipient. In 2019, she received the Lifetime Achievement award at the Grammys. This year, Warwick will be inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Warwick noted that she was pleased to be at this show as she understood the importance of scholarship. “That’s what got me into college,” she said. She attended the Hartt College of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. Sitting in a chair, and backed by her four-piece band (guitar, piano, drums, percussion), Warwick performed for about 75 minutes with a mix of old and newer songs.

Her songs combine elements of gospel, folk, pop and jazz. Warwick’s voice remains strong and clear. Her vocals range from deep and low to gentle to soaring. The set included the 1971 Grammy-winner “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” a tender, wistful “Alfie,” a jazzy, slowed down “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and a crooning “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” which won a Grammy for Female Pop Vocal Performance. Before she sang the slow song “99 Miles from L.A.,” she talked about Johnny Mathis performing it and her telling him she couldn’t believe he got the song before her. I thought it would be something instantly recognizable. Likely, the older members of the crowd knew it. Although I asked my mom and she didn’t remember it although she loved Johnny Mathis and owned all his records.

A few times, Warwick reminisced about something or shared her opinion or a joke. At one point she said, “We are living in a peculiar time; madness is what it is. Madness, chaos, flat out ugliness. I think it had a lot to do with that stuff with Covid. We were mandated and confined for two and a half years. Those two years for me were absolute bliss. I got to know my own house and sleep in my own bed. I found out about Dionne and the most important thing is I like me.” She added: “One thing that can soothe the savage beast is music. Music has a way of healing.”

She brought out her son, David Elliott, to perform “Say a Little Prayer” with her which she said she’d rhythmically changed. It was slower and a bit jazzy. At the end of the set, she brought out her granddaughter, Cheyenne Elliott, for a slower version of “What the World Needs Now is Love.” When she asked the audience to sing the chorus, she abruptly stopped the song when the audience clearly didn’t know all the words. She made a show of being shocked and annoyed, but then smiled that huge smile, and instructed the audience to sing the line “What the world needs now is love” three times. After the audience messed up again, she ordered the house lights turned on and said, “if you want to sing your own song, you can do it after my thing.” She brought her son back out so the three of them could close the show with “That’s What Friends are For.”

Cheyenne Elliott opened the show with an energetic set of classics showcasing the family talent. The Berklee graduate said she felt comfortable being back in Massachusetts. Her set included Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

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