Dionne Warwick is celebrating her 46th year in show business in fine manner.
Looking radiant Saturday night at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, the singer at the top of the show warmly told the audience "welcome to your concert."
Sounding more mature, but every bit as smooth and sultry as in her chart-hitting days of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the vocalist indeed took her fans on trip down memory lane in a succinct 85-minute show.
Wasting not a moment and focusing on the Burt Bacharach-Hal David songbook, Warwick, attired in a sparkling slacks and jacket, began with "Close to You," a tune made famous by The Carpenters.
Even better, she then launched into the parade of sprightly Bacharach-David tunes she made famous: "Don’t Make Me Over," "Walk On By," "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)," "This Girl’s In Love With You," "I’ll Never Fall In Love Again" and "Message to Michael."
Things slowed down for the poignant, subtle ballad "Alfie," a theme song that lived longer than the movie for which it was written. (She didn’t sing the top 10 hit "Theme from Valley of the Dolls," however.) Some in the adoring crowd (many apparently waited years to see her live; publicity for this show indicated she hadn’t appeared in San Francisco in two decades) could have stood more developed versions of some of those great songs. Some were presented in less than full-length versions by the six-piece band.
Still, Warwick mostly managed to avoid the "medley" pitfall to which so many performers with lots of hits succumb.
Although there was no mention of her Psychic Friends Network, she admittedly "shamelessly plugged" a book in which she describes her four-decade career. She also performed a musical tribute to Brazil, where she currently resides.
If you’re not moved by the music in Brazil, she said, "then you’re simply dead."
"Waters of March," Antonio Carlos Jobim’s tune that’s admired by many singers, sounded nice.
One of her biggest songs, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," was given a salsa treatment. She recently re-recorded the song with Celia Cruz on a new CD of duets featuring other women singers who are her friends. She mentioned that a duet CD in which she’s paired with male singers is in the works.
Perhaps the only thing the show lacked was the presence of a brass section. No fault to her fine musicians, particularly pianist-band leader Kathy Rubbicco, but the electric keyboards simply don’t provide the punch of a real horn. Those Bacharach tunes have some amazing orchestrations that, sadly, were missing Saturday.
Warwick closed the show with some of her newer, but certainly not lesser, tunes: the Barry Manilow-produced "I’ll Never Love This Way Again" from 1979 and "That’s What Friends Are For," the No. 1 1985 hit with Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. Back when it ruled the airwaves, it seemed simplistic, edging toward sappy. But 27 years later, before a room full of people enthralled by a masterful singer at work, it went down very well.
Watch Dionne Warwick sing her megahit, "That's What Friends Are For," (below) in honor of World AIDS Day 2006. She is joined by friends Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston: