Review: Tiffany at Las Vegas, 4/23/93
See photos in Pictures section
Formerly-teenaged pop star Tiffany has made her return to public performing with a two-week stint in a Vegas lounge. I saw her performances on three nights, Friday through Sunday, April 23-25. The venue is smaller than the concert halls she played at the height of her "teen queen" career. The lounge is a cozy little nook just off the Hilton's casino. An ankle-high partition separates it from the casino floor, with a row of video poker machines just outside. The stage is a small semicircle at the far end, surrounded by a partition about ten feet from it, with the space between stage and partition used as a dance floor. The rest of the lounge is filled with tables, except for the bar. A board shows keno numbers as they come up.
As it turns out, Tiffany does quite well in such intimate environments, very close to the audience. She's much better suited for this than for the more impersonal venues typical for pop-star concerts. After all, her big break came when she toured shopping malls in 1987.
What the mall performances and this casino venue have in common, besides the closeness of the audience, was the fact that the spectators didn't have to purchase tickets to see the show, which would pretty much limit the audience to those who were already fans of hers. Instead, people could just wander in, and perhaps become fans by the time they left. This worked for her at the malls, anyway. While shopping malls contain a demographically-broad group of people, it was primarily the teen crowd who "fell for" Tiffany then, and made her a big success. In a Vegas casino, she is now going for an older, more upscale audience. So, can she attract their interest?
So it seems... the audience seemed very favorable, particularly on Saturday night (the biggest and most energetic crowd of the three nights I attended), and were clapping along, and showing enthusiasm, particularly at the point when she walked into the audience, sang directly to individuals, and shook hands. Tiffany performed twice a night, at 9 and 11 PM. Before, between, and after her sets, Geralyn Lee, a passable but not greatly exciting lounge singer, took the stage. (The exception was Sunday, when some other group, of which I don't remember the name, performed; they were spirited and energetic, and clearly were putting a lot of feeling into their music, but I didn't really care for the sound.) After her Friday performance, Tiffany stuck around a little and signed a few autographs, posed for some pictures with fans, and chatted briefly with people. However, on Saturday and Sunday, she was apparently too tired, and vanished quickly. Reportedly, she talked with fans even more in the earlier weeknight performances, so I wish I'd been there earlier in the week. Her band members (John Duarte on keyboards, Vince Mendoza on guitar, Calvin Bryant on bass, Bret Zwier on drums (who also can be heard playing drums on Dreams Never Die and All The Best.), and Holly Siig on sax (though they seemed to give different answers regarding their names every time anybody asks; I finally got some of these names years later in e-mail from a band member) stuck around more, and I got to talk with them quite a bit. I remember having this exchange with bassist Calvin (who wears a New York Yankees cap, and does indeed root for the Yanks though he hails from Detroit): (Exact wording approximate, as I wasn't recording it or taking notes)
Me: Tiffany sure vanished quickly... too bad she didn't stick around to chat. Calvin: Yep, she's outa here. Me: But they really do whisk her in and out quickly... it's like she just materializes right on schedule, and disappears without a trace afterward, without seeming to pass through the lobby in between. Calvin: They get Scotty to beam her up, like on "Lost In Space." Me: Don't you mean "Star Trek"? Calvin: Whatever... I always get those sci-fi shows confused.
Actually, her band members are very friendly, and I ended up discussing everything from the Yankees' pennant prospects to the Rodney King trial with them, with occasional mentions of Tiffany. Over the three days, I ran into them a few times in the hallways and the parking lot of the hotel, probably making them wonder if I was stalking them or something. Tiffany herself, though, usually remained out of sight except while performing.
Getting back to the actual performance, Tiffany opened her set with "Black Velvet". (The set list in this review is from the Sunday performance, the only one where I was taking notes, but the other two performances I saw had pretty much the same material.) Every Las Vegas lounge singer gets to this song at some point... must be a union rule or something. In the course of my long-weekend Vegas stay, I heard no less than three different singers' renditions of it. Anyway, with this obligatory number out of the way, Tiff turned to some of her own "old classics": #1 hit "Could've Been", top-10 "All This Time", and one of her songs that didn't make the pop charts but deserved to, the ballad "Hold An Old Friend's Hand" (which sounds even better when she performs it live than it does on her album). In her Friday performance, when she got to this latter song, she went out into the audience shaking hands. On other days, she picked different songs for this, but she always did it at least once per set. It's part of her audience interaction, which she always does well, particularly in an intimate venue like this.
Next, she returned to cover tunes, with her rendition of the Pretenders' "Don't Get Me Wrong". Tiff's voice is quite versatile; when she covers a song, she actually sounds quite a lot like the original vocalist she's covering, Chrissie Hynde in this case.
Next came a medley of various old songs, starting with "Stand By Me" and finishing with "Twist And Shout." Then she took a break (retiring to the backstage room, which was about the size of a broom closet, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were some actual brooms in there), while a couple of her musicians did numbers by themselves: a sax performance by Holly of "What's Going On", and a bass solo by Calvin.
Then, Tiff was back, to perform Bonnie Raitt's "Good Man, Good Woman" in a duet with one of her band members (Calvin or Vince? I can't remember now.) Again, Tiff was good at taking on the vocal style of the singer she was covering.
Now, it was time for her to unveil one of the new songs from her upcoming album, for which she was unable to supply a more specific date than "a few months from now". This song was a ballad called "One Blue Candle." This was pleasant, if a bit slow. I had some difficulty making out all the lyrics, as Tiff's style on this tune is a bit "warbly", a pleasant sound but kind of hard to actually follow if you're trying to understand the words. Maybe it'll be clearer on the record, and then at least there will be a lyric sheet. At any rate, it takes more than three listens before I really get familiar with any new song, so I can't give a final verdict on how I like it.
After this, she launched into her well-known Beatles cover, "I Saw Him Standing There", and then closed the set with her other cover-tune hit, Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now." These were spirited renditions of these tunes, getting the audience into a very excited mood. After an hour off, she returned for the 11:00 set, which opened with a cover of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", then continued with a reprise of "All This Time". (She got her main hit songs into both performances nightly.)
This was followed by another of her new songs from her upcoming album, "Kiss The Ground". This was faster and more energetic than the other new song, and rather catchy, but I didn't really catch most of the lyrics to this one, either... is her vocal trend in the direction of incomprehensibility, or am I just not good at understanding unfamiliar lyrics when amplified over a lounge sound system? Or maybe I just have to hear a song more times before I can fully understand it. Anyway, I liked the song, even if I still don't know what it actually means.
Her next song seemed to be called "Dishonest Eyes" [Note: actually, this one was "We're The Truth"], but I'm not familiar with it and don't know if it's new or a cover. [It's on her "Dreams Never Die" album, released later.] Then, she did "I Saw Him Standing There", then her version of the Stevie Nicks / Tom Petty song "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" (which was my favorite song back when it came out). Guitarist Vince sang the male portions of this song.
Next came the Linda Ronstadt song "You're No Good", then Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine", which led into another interlude of solos by her band members while Tiffany took a break: Vince and Calvin did a sort of "dueling guitars" in the closing portions of "Grapevine", then Vince performed "Sweet Little Thing" and Bret had a drum solo. Then Tiffany was back with "Love Is Blind" (I think that's what the song was called... another one that I'm not sure if it's new or a cover of something I'm not familiar with.. a nice ballad, at any rate). Finally, she ended the set with "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Could've Been."
All in all, I found them to be very good performances. Though she seemed to be tiring out more later in the week (as evidenced by her not wanting to stick around as much to chat and sign autographs, as well as her mentioning feeling a bit hoarse near the end of Sunday's set), she didn't show it, and seemed to be improving slightly with each set, and remaining energetic right up to the end.
I'm looking forward to hearing Tiff's new album when it comes out, and I hope she can regain her popularity. Who knows: maybe this will be a better bet than the $5 wager I placed on the Florida Marlins to win the '93 World Series (a 500-1 shot) as one last speculative lark on my part before departing Vegas.
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