Commentary

Saunders: Hey, Natalie! Sing something we know!

December 15, 2013 

There used to be two ways to know you were officially old.

The first was when you went from looking at Beyonce and going, “Wow!” to going, “That young ’un ought to put some clothes on.”

The second was when you found yourself on your front porch in a yogurt-stained bathrobe, shaking your fist and going, “Hey, you kids. Get off of my lawn!”

If you have no lawn and Beyonce is not your entertainment end-all, I just invented a third way to know you’ve entered curmudgeonly codgerhood: when you go to the Durham Performing Arts Center to hear one of the great singers of her generation, and she puts on a flawless show – yet you leave the concert feeling angry and disappointed.

And we’re talking really ticked off.

Why? Because Natalie Cole did hardly any of the stuff you came to hear. In a nearly 90-minute set last week, Cole sang only two of the songs that made her a pop music queen of the 1970s.

OK, she did three – if you count the macabre duet “Unforgettable” she performed with her late father, which resuscitated her dormant career in 1991.

On the other hand, you could say she only did one of her hits if you discount “Our Love,” which she performed under duress as her encore after the unfulfilled audience yelled and stomped for more.

All right, I get it. With all the dire problems in the world today – for instance, a car company has decided to introduce a whole new generation to the musical oeuvre of Michael Bolton in its commercials – complaining about a great singer refusing to sing her greatest hits seems trivial.

Besides, although it is unlikely, I could be wrong. Bob Klaus, general manager of the DPAC, told me that, “We do hear feedback like yours from our guests every so often. With the legendary stars we present at DPAC, it sometimes seems hard for them to fit in all of the hits in a 90 minute to two-hour show.”

Yeah, but only two of their hits?

Klaus said all of the comments he’s received from the Cole show were laudatory, and the people I saw commenting on Ticketmaster’s website about other Cole performances loved them.

They obviously weren’t at the same show I attended. You know how hecklers are usually the bane of concertgoers’ experience?

The heckler who shattered a quiet moment at Cole’s show earned some gratitude, though, when he shouted for her to sing something we actually knew.

Not that it did any good. She dismissed him – graciously, of course – and kept right on singing obscure songs, standards and an overlong tribute to Chaka Khan and singers who’ve died.

I remember thinking, “I wish she’d do a tribute to the people who paid their money to be here.” She didn’t even do the Grammy-winning, now-eHarmony song, “This Will Be,” and never even looked as though she were considering doing “I’m Catching Hell” – although that’s how I felt as she started in on another show tune.

No performer can be blamed for wanting to stretch out her repertoire or shill for her new album, nor can she be blamed for tiring of singing the same old songs night after night.

A world-famous performer who lives in Durham told me Saturday that playing the same thing night after night with no changes can be “torture,” and that’s understandable. Judging from the responses of people I talked to who were at the show, though, many of them would’ve stayed home had the promotion for Cole’s show included this disclaimer on their tickets: Purchasing this ticket does not guarantee that the performer will sing anything the ticket holder has actually heard before, nor is it refundable if it doesn’t make you feel 18 again – which is how old you were when you first heard her.

I may indeed be the old man shaking his fist and yelling at kids to get off his lawn. But how many of you would feel otherwise if, say, you got to the ticket window to buy a ticket to hear Al Green and were informed that he wouldn’t perform “Let’s Stay Together”; or Beyonce, and she wasn’t going to sing whatever it is she sings; or Tony Bennett, and he wouldn’t be doing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”?

Your response would probably be the same as A Tribe Called Quest’s and mine: Oops, I left my wallet in El Segundo. I’m outta here, yo.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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