DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Season's Greetings from Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector on stage at the Howard
In 1963, Ronnie Spector, then the main voice behind the Ronettes, one of the most talented and popular girl groups of the period, performed 3 songs on the record A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. "Frosty the Snowman." "Sleigh Ride." "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Over the years, those songs have become perennial favorites on radio and internet stations that play holiday music. And last night, Ms. Spector brought her annual Ronnie Spector's Best Christmas Party Ever show to the Howard Theater here in DC.

Ms. Spector, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, was supported by a rollicking 6-piece band and 2 female backup singers who worked diligently all night to provide the famed "Wall of Sound" that was so much a part of those early Ronnette's record.

Of course, Ms. Spector performed quite a series of Christmas classics, including the 3 from the 1963 LP, as well as "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and a rendition of John Lennon's "And So This Is Christmas."

To the great delight of the audience, the holiday hits were interspersed among many of the classic rock songs the Ronettes made famous such as "Baby I Love You," "I Can Hear Music," and my all-time Ronettes favorite "Be My Baby."

Ms. Spector also choose to perform some of the early doo-wop songs which helped her establish her vocal stylings. "My mother didn't have money for singing lessons, so I would come home from school, throw these records on, and listen to them over and over," Ms. Spector said. She also allowed the band to stretch on the Ray Charles' classic "What I Say," which Ms. Spector said she used to perform before the Ronnette's had any hits.

Two of the most interesting selections in the 90-minute set were covers. Ms. Spector performed the late Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." From its plinking piano intro to its powerful chorus, Ms. Spector's version definitely demonstrated how much Ms. Winehouse was influenced by early 60s girl singers like the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Darlene Love.

Christmas present, Christmas past
Ms. Spector introduced the 2nd song of the night as a tribute to her friends since the 1960s, The Rolling Stones. "They're playing just up the road in New Jersey tonight," she said. "This is a song I used to play for them when we toured together in 1964." She then broke into a torrid version of "Time Is On My Side," which the Stones made one of their early singles and played live on stage for years.

During each number, a giant screen behind Ms. Spector and the band displayed pictures and home movie clips that tied rock n' roll's past with the on-stage presentation. For example, when Ms. Spector performed the Stones' hit, the screen displayed a newspaper clip and pictures with the headline "Those Ronettes set the Stones rolling!"

In the night's only somber note, Ms. Spector dedicated her song "I Wish I Never Saw Sunshine" to the suffering children, families, and community of Newton, Connecticut. Visibly shaken and tearing up,  Ms. Spector said she lived only about 10 minutes from the scene of the tragic school shooting. "This goes out to the community there. It is the least I can do. They were just babies," she said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Who says there's no Santa Claus? During the last song of her 3-song encore, Ms. Spector reached into a large Christmas bag and pulled out rolled up Ronnie Spector T-shirts, each decorated with ribbons and a bow. We were seated center-stage, just one table from the stage front. Ms. Spector tossed the 1st T-shirt  at me, but a woman to my right reached in front of me. The T-shirt bounced off her hands and neither of us got it. But later in the song, Judy was able to grab one of Ms. Spector's tosses and I now have a free Christmas present from Ronnie Spector. And no, I didn't steal the shirt from my wife. It was an extra-large.  So to Ms. Spector I say thanks for the music, thanks for the memories, thanks for the T-shirt, and I hope your holiday is truly the best ever.

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