28 June 2008

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The "Lucy in Heat" Concert at Universal CityWalk

by Teresa Ortega

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At a time in which the price of nearly everything seems to be going up, Lucy Lawless fans were presented with a free outdoor concert at the Universal CityWalk, located in the studio-state of Universal City.

The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I showed up at the concert several hours early, as is our custom, to take up a waiting position close to the stage. A barrier had been set up roughly eight feet back from center stage, and when we arrived, a single layer of Lucy's fans was already entrenched around it. We chose a position in the second "row," near the center, and settled in with many familiar faces.

For those unfamiliar with the CityWalk, it is an outdoor complex combining entertainment, shopping and dining. If you can imagine the architectural equivalent of a pinball machine playfield, you have grasped the essential experience of it. It is chaotic to navigate, dense with colorful facades, and filled with gargantuan neon objects.

CityWalk surprised me by being not just a good place to see a show, but a good place to wait for a show. It was easy to grab a snack and and go back to waiting, and there was a constant stream of activity to observe in every direction.

One of the bonuses of arriving early was getting to see Lucy and her band perform a soundcheck. While the band and the back up singers tweaked and tuned, the fans got to see Lucy onstage sporting her new, darker hair color and a ravishing blue gown.

Looking drop-dead gorgeous without makeup, Lucy stared back at us through her reflective shades and occasionally turned to her iPhone for a bout of texting (hey, aren't the fans supposed to be the nerds?). Lucy and the band performed a few songs all the way through, including "Superstar," which once again brought me close to tears (see Roxy 2008 concert report).

Shortly after the sound check, a series of opening acts commenced, introduced by a Universal CityWalk Master of Ceremonies. Throughout the evening, this MC found it greatly entertaining to repeat the name "Lucy Lawless" at every chance so as to elicit squeals from Lucy's female fans. It became tiresomely Pavlovian after a while, but the MC continued, in his simple way, to enjoy it, and we continued to oblige him.

A Circus on Stilts was paraded out onto a separate stage, situated behind the fans. I was able to watch the act with the aid of a giant screen, which later carried Lucy's image. There were several such screens, positioned to provide a good view of the stage acts to various locations on the CityWalk, such as the terraced dining areas. The act concluded with an explosion of streamers that dispersed throughout the crowd.

Next, we were introduced to the opening band, called Paperback Hero. They were an amazingly decent, unsigned hard rock band. It cheered me to see that Los Angeles still offers casual opportunities to see a hard-working band on its way up. Lucy's fans listened to them appreciatively as the evening half-light darkened into night.

After the MC took some minutes to aggressively wrest as many screams as possible from the fans, Lucy finally entered on stage in a drapey knit two-tone dress and stack heel boots. The thin knit swung easily as Lucy danced and sang to "Tell Mama," the opening song. The purple and beige dress gently clung to Lucy's shape as she twisted and turned--it was a great performance outfit.

Having seen many of Lucy's concerts and appearances, my impression is that her singing abilities are consistently better each time I see her. I love hearing the development of her voice and her renditions of specific songs over time. At this point in Lucy's singing career, she sounds fantastic. This was the first concert I have attended where it seemed like Lucy's voice was fully her own, unique, complex and distinctive. I felt like I could both see it and hear it in the confidence she showed on stage.

Moving into "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" and "Like the Way I Do," Lucy began working that dress in some unexpected ways. Lucy's repertoire of stage moves seems to have expanded, and "Like the Way I Do" included a plunging crotch grab down the front of the dress that brought gasps and sudden screams from her fans. You can find it at around 3:28 on the .wmv version of the file (likethewayidoconcert.wmv) available for download from Lucy's fan club page.

It is not an exaggeration to compare the impact the dress made on fans to the first appearance of chaps at the Roxy concert in 2007. Later, after the show, it would be much discussed at the planned fan gathering at the Hard Rock Cafe. The dress also seemed to click with more casual concert watchers as well. Several guys, presumably in casual attendance, yelled "We Love You, Lucy!" in unison.

Lucy pitched her voice low, in imitation of the guys' deep voices, and said "Thanks, guys," before wisecracking, "It must be the dress." Lucy teased gently, "Why haven't I seen you at any of my other shows?" Pointing to her "old fans" in front, Lucy commented, "These three rows in front--I recognize them." The underlying message was, "You think you love me, but these are the ones who really love me."

Lucy played consistently to her audience, often prefacing her songs with a few words to indicate that they were intended for her fans. She chatted easily on stage and called out or waved to various people in the crowd, including former Xena: Warrior Princess director T.J. Scott and Victoria Pratt, who played the character Cyane on the show. Encouraging everyone to "think of their favorite actor," Lucy goofed with musical director Michael Orland and her backup vocalists Terry Wood and Peggi Blu during "You're So Vain."

Earlier in the week, Los Angeles has experienced an intense heat wave. Although the worst heat was over, temperatures rose on Saturday in Universal City, but it was never truly uncomfortable during the afternoon wait for the concert to begin. However, once the opening band took the stage and the crowd began to close in, the temperature seemed to increase despite lower evening temperatures.

After performing "Wonderful," with its lyric question, "Does it feel hot?" Lucy remarked about being warm on stage. As the show progressed, the heat was evident in the glowing sheen of perspiration that appeared at the hollow of her throat.

The warmth, however, never marred Lucy's appearance. In keeping with the 70s fashion evident in her wrap dress, Lucy wore a "natural" style of makeup, including nude tone lipstick and eye shadow. Heavy black eyeliner and false eyelashes completed the look, making Lucy's blue eyes blaze out from between fringed lids.

I had not thought that a dress would be a good match for the fiercer side of Lucy's personality, but she was able to make it work on angry songs like "What's Up?" and "Bitch." Regrettably, Universal's "family-friendly" policies required Lucy to change the lyrics to the latter song from "I'm a bitch," to "I'm a witch," a switch that made me dissolve in giggles each time I heard it.

That wasn't the only editing required by Universal. The opening band also mentioned Universal's family-friendly requirements (also known as censorship in some circles). Despite these strictures, Lucy wriggled in a few naughty moments, including the aforementioned crotch grab, and slipping a same-sex pronoun into the second verse of "Fooled Around and Fell in Love."

I noticed that Lucy changed lyrics in several songs when it suited her phrasing. Its another example of Lucy's growing conformability on stage. There was an easy, almost effortless feeling to the show as it moved from tender songs, like "New and Beautiful," to the poetic "Hallelujah" to the raucous "River Deep Mountain High."

All of the elements I've mentioned--Lucy's voice, her stage presence, her personality and her beauty--all seemingly upped a notch--combined to make this hour long concert a stand out. Just when I thought I'd seen all the talent and all the sexy that Lucy knows how to bring, it was like she broke open her secret stash and brought out the really good stuff.

After the show, several fans gathered for dinner and drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe. As it turned out, Lucy was also there with her good friend Marissa Jaret Winokur, seated at the opposite end of the terrace. Midway through our meal, Lucy and Marissa joined us for several minutes to chat.

Yes, that's right--we were in the Presence. Lucy asked us to pass on to the other fans how happy she was that we all came out to see her and support her at the concert and that we gave her confidence and courage during her performance. I managed to commit the message to memory before the dulling force of Lucy Haze descended upon me, blotting out rational thought.