Most people look forward to the summer months because they bring warmer temperatures, vacations, outdoor gatherings, and longer days. Those are all fine and dandy, but what really gets my fires stoked for the warm season is when the Queen of Rock (a. k. a. Pat Benatar to the uneducated) takes her show on the road. Always the dutiful parents, Pat and her husband/producer/lead guitarist Neil Geraldo wait for school to let out before beginning a tour so that they can bring their children along for the trip. Some kids get to visit Disneyland or the beach during their summer breaks; these kids get to see the country and the throngs of fans who think their mother is the bomb-diggity.
When people get to know me and discover my love for all things audio, the most frequent question posed is, ‘Who do you consider to be the best artist of all time?’ Without hesitation, I go on and on about my love for Pat. The reactions run the gamut from total bewilderment to enthusiastic agreement. Since the first time I heard ‘Heartbreaker, ’ Pat’s leadoff single from her debut album “In the Heat of the Night, " I was hooked and became a life-long fan. I’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of new releases (some waits much longer than I would have liked) and tried to catch her live performances whenever her tours brought her around to my neck of the woods. Last month I was lucky enough to see her live again.
The setting was the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, which is an idyllic place to watch a live performance. Located at the top of a mountain (thus the name) with a lush setting and a breathtaking view of the Silicon Valley, this intimate outdoor venue provided a quaint setting with an up-close-and-personal vibe going on between the audience and the band. The stage, while not large, sits before a historic, stone winery building covered in snaking ivy, which serves as a spectacular backdrop. Considering the demographic of those in attendance skewed towards the older end of the continuum, there was no need for a buffer zone filled with bouncers between the front row and the stage (no mosh pit needed for the brittle-boned crowd).
My excitement was reaching frenzied levels once I set foot on the grounds of the winery. I was eagerly anticipating seeing Pat live again after she skipped this venue last summer. Unfortunately, the crowd had to endure a middling opening act (I don’t even recall their name… it was that memorable), before the headlining moment would arrive. After a short set and a quick equipment turnaround on stage, it was time for the real deal. The audience leapt to its feet when the lights went out and the band started making it’s way for the stage with Benatar trailing behind. I got caught up in the overexcited enthusiasm and let out a scream of approval and pumped my fist in the air (it’s moments like this that bring out my inner-teenager).
The petite ingénue sounded in prime form from the onset. Sure, at 52 years of age, this opera-trained singer can’t hit some of the high notes like she used to, but she compensates wonderfully with slight alterations which put a new spin on the old favorites (like the new take on the chorus of “We Live for Love"). She still possesses an inhuman vocal range so unique it can beautifully work its way through a sweet ballad, while also possessing the ability to belt out a rocker with an unparalleled ferocity.
The set list consisted of crowd-pleasing oldies like “Shadows of the Night, " “Hell Is for Children, " “Heartbreaker, " “Promises in the Dark, " “All Fired Up, " and “Hit Me with Your Best Shot" intertwined with a handful of less-mainstream tunes. From the reviews I had read of this year’s tour, I knew that Pat was slated to sing “My Clone Sleeps Alone" and “Wuthering Heights, " which thrilled me to no end since those are two of my lesser-known favorites off her first two releases. “Clone" was the first of these rare live performances, and it sounded better than I ever could have imagined. Unfortunately, the city of Saratoga has imposed a curfew on the venue to appease the stodgy neighbors, so the set list had to be pared down and “Wuthering Heights" was the glaring casualty (big-time bummer). This fan would have preferred no opening act so Pat could have played longer and engaged in more between-song banter with the band and the audience. The interchanges with the audience are half the fun.
As is the norm for me, I was depressed when the night came to its inevitable conclusion (I always want more). Another excellent show, which ranks up there with the best performances I have seen (nothing has topped the spine-tingling memories I have from the very first time I saw her back in 1986). If Pat Benatar rolls in to a town near you, I highly recommend that you make every sacrifice to see her. You won’t be disappointed – and that’s not just my biased opinion speaking.
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