Rock column, Mail on Sunday, January 18 2009

Tina Turner
Lanxess Arena, Cologne
FOUR STARS


For rock stars of a certain age, there are several ways of approaching
an arena show: hydraulic, pyrotechnic, autobiographical, high-energy,
high-camp, back-to-basics. Some acts take a couple of these and blend
them, but Tina Turner is the first to serve them all up at once.

She is making her comeback, at 69, after eight years of retirement.
She hasn't explained why she is back, but she has been living in
Switzerland, which must be a little sedate by her standards. The
strategy is simple: pack eight years' worth of developments in staging
into two hours.

Tina arrives vertically, on a lift, not coming up as many stars do,
but down from the lighting rig. She is toned and trim in skin-tight
black sequinned pedal-pushers. Her hair, getting big again after a
brief attempt at normal proportions, looks like a set of pom-poms in a
high wind. She could pass for 50, which turns out to be the age of her
elder son.

She is backed by seven male musicians, who are either white-haired or
no-haired: like Stephen Rea in the film Still Crazy, Tina has clearly
reassembled the old band. There are two forceful female backing
singers and four fizzing female dancers, who start in their underwear
and get fully dressed later. Everywhere you look, there is energy.

Tina Turner is one of rock's great one-offs. Nobody else has had her
journey, from cotton-picking Baptist in rural Tennessee to Buddhist
pensioner in mittel-Europe. Although she was big in the Sixties, as
the raucous frontwoman for her abusive husband Ike, she was much
bigger in the Eighties, when she returned from the wilderness to huge
success.

So this show is recalling not a distant youth but a glowing middle
age. The Eighties songs, chugging rock-soul numbers delivered with a
controlled smoulder, form the backbone of the evening. There are even
several sax solos.

When Ike died last year, Tina issued a painfully terse statement,
saying she had had no contact with him for 30 years and would be
making no further comment. She plays only two songs from their time
together, each too much of a signature to be erased: River Deep
Mountain High, done with brio early on, and Proud Mary, held back and
rather overblown.

She is visibly happier reliving the solo years. Since her last tour,
Eighties nostalgia has come along, and she merrily joins in,
recreating Robert Palmer's glossy sexism for Addicted To Love, and
restaging half of Mad Max for We Don't Need Another Hero. She herself,
back in costume, looks like Yoda's mum.

She changes her outfit regularly, swapping the pedal-pushers for a red
ballgown for Acid Queen from Tommy (the gown outshines the tune), then
ripping it off to disclose the inevitable minidress. She still does
that funny dance, as if holding an invisible frisbee between her
thighs. And she still has that look on her face, half defiant, half
amused, which suggests that the lead role in her life story, which
went to Angela Bassett, could just as well have gone to Robert de
Niro.

Musically, the show is uneven. The Beatles' Help is an unexpected
treat, performed acoustically as southern soul and paired with the
gorgeous Let's Stay Together. But I Can't Stand The Rain has none of
the stark beauty of the original, Addicted To love is stodgy, and two
Rolling Stones hits are jammed together and thrown away. Fit as Turner
looks, her voice is more shrill now.

The other highlights are The Best, rescued from TV-commercial hell by
the sheer delight of the crowd, and Private Dancer, the elegant ballad
written for Tina by Mark Knopfler, which brings out her reflective
side as the other six women gather round in a swirl of female
solidarity.

Along the way, there are fireworks, explosions, more pedal-pushers,
another mini dress, big-hearted band introductions, and a four-minute
Bond film for Goldeneye. But the biggest coup is at the end, when Tina
swings out over the stalls on a platform mounted on a horizontal
crane, and then dances back along the crane in her high heels. It's
all a feast for the eyes and a boost for the spirits, and it reaches
Britain in March.