Linda Ronstadt’s performance at the Arlington Theatre last Tuesday was shamelessly cheesy, but it was more on par with aged, quality Swiss than with Kraft Mac in a box.
The curtains first rose to reveal a mariachi orchestra dressed in matching brown outfits with yellow bow ties, signaling that Ronstadt has come a long way from her considerably cooler former reputation as “the Queen of Rock.”
She is thought by many music critics to be the most talented female rock singer of all time. Her biggest hits were songs written by other people, but her rock ‘n roll reinterpretations were so popular that she became the top-selling female vocalist in the 1970s. She has churned out albums like clockwork since 1967, and in the process has sold over 50 million albums, won 11 Grammy Awards, and covered genres like folk, rock, alternative country, New Wave, classic and contemporary pop, jazz, and traditional Mexican music.
While she is no longer the world-famous, stadium-filling mega star that she once was, she isn’t trying to be, either.
Her mariachi band opened the evening, and the stringed musicians played their instruments all in unison, sounding upbeat and romantic before eventually growing tiresome. One of the members put on a comedy show that only the elderly would find funny, in which he ridiculed a fellow band member for being a “gordita” and for not being macho enough.
After almost an hour, Ronstadt calmly walked on stage in a baggy black dress and belted out a note with ease. Nowadays, powerful vocalists tend to sound like passionless showoffs (e.g. “American Idol” contestants, “Star Spangled Banner” singers, etc.), with their obnoxious competitions over who can hold a vibrato-filled note for the longest period of time.
But Ronstadt’s voice, though impressive and incredibly loud, is actually pleasant to hear. She sings with genuine emotion, making sure to never go over-the-top with the vibrato or with her note-holding. In between songs, she discussed her Mexican heritage and sang the same tunes that her grandfather did back in the day when he was serenading her grandmother.
Her voice alone provided enough energy to revitalize the lovelorn serenades, but an audience can only take so many saccharine melodies and perfectly harmonious violins before suffering from a sugar-crash. She divided the songs with performances from a dance troupe, although the dances mostly consisted of women waving their colorful dresses in the air. I tried to imagine what these dances would look like in normal clothes rather than the fancy costumes, and the mental image wasn’t pretty.
Though not ground-breaking, this show was more about getting an American audience to appreciate authentic Mexican culture. Ronstadt wisely took her final bow before she could wear out her welcome, and the crowd filed out with no requests for an encore.
But a few audience members loudly imitated her heartfelt style, belting out in Spanish as they walked down State Street.
Indeed, it was the kind of performance that could get you passionately singing along with mariachi music, which is no small feat for an American singer. But as far as prerecorded music is concerned, you’re better off checking out her older classic covers like “You’re no Good” and “Blue Bayou.”