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Vegas Tales - I like Celine Dion

I saw Celine Dion and I liked it. I didn’t want to. My daughter was a fan as a pre-teen and my son and I would sing “I Drove All Night” in wavering mock falsetto voices to tease her. To my daughter’s credit and maturity, it rarely worked. I prefer male singer/songwriters (who often struggle with singing) and from time to time , I find it fashionable to be dismissive of successful acts. Celine Dion's massive success leaves ample low hanging fruit for critics, should they choose to be mean spirited.

My wife is a Celine fan and we were scheduled to be in Las Vegas during her opening night performance at Caeser’s Palace. The show was sold out. I thought I would mention StubHub to my wife and leave well enough alone. Seconds later she was logged in. In the spirit of true surrender, I encouraged her to opt for “electronic delivery” tickets as the human element of StubHub can be prone to errors.

There was a noticeable Francophone component in the crowd milling about before the show. Was it just Dion’s extended French-Canadian family in attendance? More likely a huge Quebecois fan base. It was fun to hear boilerplate pre-concert announcements in both English and French... just like home.

The show starts with an ending. A whirlwind video that includes her last show in Las Vegas which was followed her round the world Taking Chances tour. CRAP! Suddenly I’m tearing up because the damn video includes cute comments from little Rene-Charles Angelil to his superstar mommy. I cry watching certain Tim Horton’s commercials and now I’m crying at the sappy introduction to the show. I hate myself.

The show starts with a powerful rendition of Journey’s “Open Arms”. It illustrates one of the many keys to Celine Dion's success, she doesn’t sing clunkers. In the early 1980’s I used to make fun of Dave Birkenhagen’s album collection which included James Last and Journey. Today I’ll listen to Journey but I’m not going back to Ian Drury and the Blockheads very often.

During one of the songs, multiple videos of her singing the same song at different career stages played which made for an interesting effect. It was the James Bond medley won me over. From the opening twangy guitar riff, to punchy horns to great vocal renditions of “Goldfinger”, “Nobody Does it Better” and “Live and Let Die.” All were suited to her potent voice.

At times the full power of the staging became distracting. Dion does a duet with herself, is the video of her live or in the past? Wait! Who is that walking down the aisle with a microphone. Is that Dion  live or a standin? Way at the back of the stage is a dim hologram of Dion. It made sense after the fact. I figured out that holograms are at the back of the stage and look dull compared to the high definition closeup videos on giant screens at the front of the stage.

Next she announced that she was doing a duet with Stevie Wonder and for a few seconds the crowd though AWESOME! what a great opening night this will be. Instead we were treated to more visual trickery of Dion doing a “live” duet with a hologram of Wonder. This was offset by high definition video of him on very large side screens. Audiences have been trained to see live acts on big screens so the effect works quite well. Just remember that nothing is dimly lit in this show except for the holograms.
Dion grabbed everyone by the ears with her version of Eric Carmen's "All by Myself." She put her stamp on this classic. Michael Jackson is featured in a very entertaining interlude where three cellos rocked out on “Smooth Criminal”/”Beat It.” Dion followed up with “Ben” and “Man in the Mirror.” The show flagged a bit for me at this point. I couldn’t get over the fact that “Ben” is about a rat. Even a loose tie to rodents doesn’t belong in this extravaganza. Dion gave a very intimate rendition of Jacque Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas.” where she cried near the ending. This time I didn’t. I was intent on figuring out if her tears were real or added digitally, I feel like a jerk for over thinking this intimate moment.

Dion’s show is very well paced and it was time to pick up the tempo. Not a moment to soon (for me at least),  she busted out “River Deep Mountain High” which was great...except for her insistence on baton twirling a part of her microphone stand. Just because you can twirl a baton doesn’t mean that it needs to be worked into the show. To my knowledge, Tom Jones doesn’t pull out a yo-yo during “It’s Not Unusual.” Like I said, I did not want to like the show. In the end the music won me over.

The bottom line is that if Celine Dion could win me over, 90% of her audience is going to be blown away. In the end it is about the music. Celine Dion’s amazing voice, choice of songs, and great backing musicians all deliver. The understated (for Vegas) production allows the focus to be on great music. I would see this show again in a heartbeat.