A melancholy stroll down memory lane with Dionne Warwick

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“The sweet acceptance I got from the Filipino audience brought me great joy and happiness… I look forward to coming back soon,” international pop diva Dionne Warwick told Inquirer in an e-mail interview shortly before she left the country on Friday, July 26.


“The past few days spent touring and performing around your wonderful country was quite an experience,” added Warwick in summing up her recent four-night concert series. “It was a great pleasure to be back in Manila.”

The legendary singer did receive a warm reception from her fans in four key cities of the country where she performed for the “Dionne Warwick Philippine Tour 2013.” It was certainly a feat for the 72-year-old to hold successive shows in Manila (a fund-raising dinner show at the Manila Hotel for the benefit of the Missionaries of Mary, Mother of the Poor on July 20), Davao City (SMX Convention Center, July 21), Quezon City (Smart Araneta Coliseum, July 23) and Baguio City (University of Baguio, July 25).

Earlier, the tour promoter, Ovation Productions, said in publicity materials that the highlight of Warwick’s tour was the “grand concert” at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.


At the Big Dome

So on Tuesday night, it wasn’t surprising that thousands of Warwick fans braved the heavy downpour and traffic to watch the awaited event.

At 8:16 p.m., the front act, Tavares, got the party started with its 1975 hit song, “It Only Takes a Minute.”  The American R&B, funk and soul group—composed of brothers Pooch, Chubby, Butch and Tiny—regaled the audience with six more of its 1970s and 1980s chart toppers, including “A Penny for Your Thoughts” and “More Than a Woman.”

The brothers earned loud cheers when they addressed the crowd in Filipino, using common words and phrases they had learned, like “Iniibig kita,”  “Masarap,” “Salamat po” and “Ano kayo, baliw?” (this one drew guffaws).

The crowd had more than warmed up by the time the brothers sang their final song, “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel,” an international chart buster in 1976. The audience couldn’t ask for more after the group rendered another mega-hit, “Hard Core Poetry,” for encore.

But before their final bow, the brothers delivered this message with big smiles on their faces: “Manila, we love you. We’re coming back. Remember who sang this song (“Hard Core Poetry”)… not Stylistics (another famous soul group)! God bless!”


Main event

After a five-minute break, Warwick appeared on stage dressed in apple green pants and a multi-colored top.

“It’s a pleasure to be here in Manila,” she addressed the crowd. “I want to re-introduce you to songs that you remember, and those that will be remembered.”

Warwick, considered one of the greatest pop singers of all time, asked the audience to join her in “a stroll down memory lane,” promising to give them their money’s worth.

Such an introduction was enough to raise the crowd’s expectation. For her opening number, she didn’t pick any of the classics by the legendary song-writing tandem of Burt Bacharach and Hal David that made her famous around the world. Instead she sang “Heartbreaker,” composed by the Bee Gees. Not a few eyebrows were raised when Warwick struggled with the song, if only because it was her biggest solo hit in the 1980s.

Warwick’s five-member band came to her rescue, pumping up the volume and nearly drowning her weak, hoarse voice.

That was certainly a heartbreaker.

Warwick then moved on to the next songs on her set list—an Antonio Carlos Jobim medley culminating in “Aquarela Do Brasil”—still in the same soft, gravelly voice. At that point, a few persons in the audience were seen stepping out.

For sure, many wondered what had happened to the once-exquisite, powerful, haunting voice that made her one of the biggest acts in the 1960s and 1970s.

A turnaround

The more loyal fans who stayed on their seats were amply rewarded because Warwick’s performance picked up—very likely because her voice had warmed up—on her fourth song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” It is her biggest international hit on record, the one that fetched her first Grammy Award, in 1968. Though it sounded like she sang the song in a lower key, the rasp in her voice had become less pronounced.

Warwick’s performance kept improving as she proceeded to interpret her bestsellers—“Alfie” (Bacharach’s personal favorite), “You’ll Never Get to Heaven,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “This Girl’s in Love With You,” and “I Say a Little Prayer,” among others. Some songs she jazzed up; others she tackled in lower keys.

Two new songs

Her set list also included two new songs from her latest album “Now,” which she released in October to mark her 50 years in the music business—“Love is Still the Answer” composed by Bacharach, and “99 Miles From LA” written by David.

Towards the second half of Warwick’s 90-minute performance, members of the audience were completely smitten. They gladly complied when she asked them to join her in singing “Walk On By,” and then again for her final three songs—“I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” “What the World Needs Now,” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Warwick’s vocal power may have diminished, but she will always be loved and idolized as the inimitable performer and recording artist who immortalized some of the most romantic songs of all time.  No need to make her over. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)