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Paula Abdul Offers Straight Up Snooze Fest at Rocksino


October 28th, 2018


America's sweetheart and American Idol judge Paula Abdul brought her dance troop to Northfield's Hard Rock Rocksino Friday evening on her first tour in almost three decades.  Abdul, a former Los Angeles Lakers' "Laker Girl" cheerleader and a choreographer of note during the MTV video days (she did dance move duties on many of Janet Jackson's videos and concert tours during the mid to late 1980s),  later achieved success as a judge and foil to Simon Cowell for the first several seasons of the ratings juggernaut American Idol.

Her first album, 1988's Forever Your Girl, was a blockbuster success, attaining four #1 singles on the charts, setting a record for the most #1 tunes from a debut album.  Her followup release, Spellbound, offered two more #1 singles.  

Her strengths have always been her charisma, her diminutive size (which stands in contrast to the size of her personality and dance talents), as well as her unerring ability to win over an audience, whether it be a multi-million viewership of an episode of "Idol" or a smaller, more intimate crowd like Friday night's Rocksino show.

I don't know if being away from the touring life for almost thirty years can have an impact on the actual presentation of your tour, but it seems that this tour, sadly, was a vanity project designed to draw on the nostalgia of a bygone time.  Abdul's success came before the days of the internet and all its trappings.  Her success, as huge as it was, came and went in a matter of four or five years.  Falling out of the public eye for several years, it wasn't until American Idol came along that she became somewhat relevant again.

Don't get me wrong, Abdul made an impact on late 20th century pop culture; her choreography helped Janet Jackson's career in ways that may never be fully calculated.  But  rumors of lip synching always plagued her performances, and a lawsuit in the early 1990s from a woman who claimed it was her singing many of Paula's hit tunes reeked of the whole Milli Vanilli affair.

Nonetheless, her show was a display of great dance moves, punctuated by the presence of many fine backup dancers.  A total of thirteen songs were offered (fourteen if you count the snippet of "Singing In The Rain," a tune made popular by her idol Gene Kelly) that were interrupted by interstitials of her life and road to success. Throughout the night, all of her songs were offered.  "Opposites Attract" and "Cold-Hearted Snake" were presented early in the set, while a ballsy "Straight Up" and slower-paced "Forever Your Girl" were saved for last. 

The whole evening played like a Broadway production, which wouldn't be totally unexpected from a choreographer.  But, it seemed to all fall flat; Abdul would come on stage and introduce a segment about her life, lit up by a giant video screen that showed photos of her as a youngster or flashy animations designed to highlight a particular point she was trying to make.  At one point, she opined about the late, great Kelly while dancing to an animated umbrella on the screen behind her.  Precision was key here: The umbrella was an animated prop and one misstep would dash the whole suspension of disbelief.  If you were seated center stage about fifteen rows back, it was a fantastic illusion.  if you were on the sides of the venue, not so much.

I suppose if you've been around for decades, released a dozen or so beloved albums, and have been in the public eye forever, a retrospective show of your career may be in order.  But when the tunes encompassing your career are from two albums released to great fanfare thirty years ago are what you're dusting off, adding slick production design, and then lip-synching to a crowd of primarily middle-aged women drunk on nostalgia, it just doesn't give me, an ardent live music lover, the warm and fuzzies.

Am I being too harsh?  Perhaps.

I think Abdul is a genuine person; her warmth and pathos oozed over into our living rooms from her years on television.  Hell, when I lived in Hawaii in the early 1990s I'm fairly certain I took her snorkeling, as her husband didn't want to come into the ocean and she was afraid to go by herself.  Was it her?  I don't know; I never got her name.  But the tiny brunette that asked me to take her into the clear waters of Poipu looked a lot like Ms. Abdul.  And her personality matched that of the lady we saw on Friday night's stage.

But that Hawaiian snorkeler's identity, like the performance at Friday night's show, will forever remain a mystery to me.

Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley

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