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Washington Review-November 23/24, 2008

Pictures by Elle Denneman

Tina Turner Still Burns

Tina Turner still burns; songs outweigh spectacle As befits a veteran diva, her show is a career retropsective

November 26, Tina Turner turns 69.

Yet, she somehow has the stamina of a teen, the gams of an athletic 25-year-old and the confidence of a woman who knows that, despite an eight-year sabbatical from the stage, her Queendom is intact.

At a sold-out Verizon Center on Sunday -- Turner played a second show last night -- she blitzed through the type of career-retrospective performance that has become commonplace in Las Vegas.

The decades of hits. The cadre of dancers to fill time during costume changes. The fireworks. The video overview of her life. Even a motorized crane that spat her out high -- very, crazily, is-she-insane? high -- above the crowd during the encore.

But as dazzling the displays from those other divas -- the Chers, Bettes and Celines -- their music often plays a secondary role to the spectacle.

With Turner, the songs are the centerpiece.

Although, it could be argued that her own skittering dance moves and outfits (often emulated by youngsters such as Beyoncé) frequently distracted -- in an impressive way -- from whatever classic her seven-piece band was churning out.

Whether in sequined black Capri pants, a thigh-baring red leotard with sheer cape (for "Acid Queen") or that heinous getup from "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" -- spangled linebacker shoulder pads and a helmet of a blond wig --Turner was always a mesmerizing sight.

Add in her vibrant mane and serious stilettos and you have one unique fashion plate.

But, the superficial aside, Turner remains a first-class belter.

"River Deep Mountain High" featured gutsy, undiminished vocals that blended grit with gospel, while "What You Get is What You See" delivered a steely message beneath its playful bop.

Turner was certainly gracious and friendly, telling the crowd about her visit to the Lincoln Memorial during the weekend and chiding the men in the audience when they wouldn't sing the chorus of "What's Love Got to Do With It" with enough gusto ("We'll give you another chance . . . as usual," she grinned).

But her fiery attitude was never far below the surface.

"Better Be Good to Me" was snarled in a manner to remind us that this is not a woman who will be crossed and the "nice and easy/nice and rough" walkup to "Proud Mary" retained every ounce of Turner's special sass -- including those fierce dance moves she shared with her four backup dancers.

The show was divided into two one-hour segments, and, aside from an overlong 30-minute intermission and some grating commercials before the concert and during that intermission, Turner's production was an outstanding value for its $150 top ticket.

The second act occasionally felt a bit overstuffed with covers (couldn't we live without "Addicted to Love"?), though her heart-wrenching version of The Beatles' "Help" and the song that re-launched her career, Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," soared with her long notes and istinctive enunciation.

Turner's return tour wraps in the U.S. next month and is slated to continue through Europe into the spring.

This may very well be her last spin around the world, so if you haven't seen her, it might be time to cash in the frequent-flier miles.

Contact Melissa Ruggieri at (804) 649-6120 or mruggieri@timesdispatch.com.

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