The Queen of Country goes through the motions on the last stop of her world tour
After 54 years in the business and 174million records sold, the 'Queen of Country' Dolly Parton can still put bums on seats – and heads on pillows. Maybe Parton is in a reflective mood because tonight’s show at the Odyssey Arena is the last stop on her world tour, or maybe she’s always this chatty. But after tonight’s snoozy display, no one here needs to buy her autobiography.
With many in the Belfast crowd resplendent in pink Stetsons and waving US flags, initial signs suggest a fun show. The curtains part and the statuesque singer appears in a sparkly green dress, her blonde hair teased a good foot high.
Parton’s 10-piece band are beating out the rhythms, though for the first few numbers – including a limp rendition of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ – they are so quiet they are nearly drowned out by the thump-thump of the Beach club next door.
The evergreen ‘Jolene’ (‘I think she was Irish’), ‘Rocky Top’ and a snatch of the Deliverance theme get things going. Then Parton starts a lengthy sermon about her momma, her preacher grandpa, her dirt-poor upbringing…
At one point during the near-three-hour show, I timed six minutes of gabbing for every three minutes of music. Midway through one interminable ramble even the band seem to have had enough and start playing over the top of her.
Parton repeatedly thanks everyone for coming – ‘older folks, middle-aged folks, little folks holding their ears…’ The famously astute businesswoman certainly has a keen handle on her demographic, and she’s remarkably honest about her motivation for still churning it out at 65.
‘I appreciate the money,’ Parton coos. ‘It costs a fortune to make somebody look this cheap.’ (It’s a good gag, but she repeats it three times.)
Musically, it’s a mixed bag of surprising covers (the Beatles’ ‘Help’, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, a Collective Soul tune) and strong selections from her new album Better Day.
The title track is winningly bluesy, while lead single ‘Together You and I’ showcases Parton’s perennial craving to stay relevant in the pop market. ‘Country Is as Country Does’ and ‘In the Meantime’ are potent rabble-rousers, but a rap about Queen Latifah is the concert’s nadir.
Throughout, Parton plugs her Dollywood theme park and the state of Tennessee itself, all the while flirting shamelessly with the audience. At various points, she wields a fiddle, a banjo, a guitar, a saxophone and a harmonica.
But despite the lavish presentation so much of this show seems like going through the motions. Parton giggles and chirps with dead eyes, autocue in plain sight. At up to £75 a ticket, the assembled fans deserve more.
Still, the night ends on a high with the crowd-pleasing classics ‘Islands in the Stream’, ‘9 to 5’, and über-ballad ‘I Will Always Love You’, or, as Parton renames it, ‘I Will Always Love Whitney Houston’.
‘I still cry every time I go to the bank,’ the singer smirks, summing up the vibe of the evening in one amusingly cynical sentence.