I’d been waiting 30 years to see Donna Summer live-to hear her, dance with her-and Thursday night a couple hundred others and I finally got to cross off “see Donna Summer” from our collective must-do list. Unsurprisingly, the performance was great, in spite of the shocking loss of Michael Jackson-a long-time friend of Summer’s-just hours earlier that day.
At 60 years old, Summer still sizzled, changing into five different costumes during the course of the night. She joked with the crowd about her weight, but between her smile, cheekbones, and flawless skin, the singer simply radiated beauty.
Like most, I didn’t come to the Chumash to hear new Donna Summer music. It’s tough not to appreciate that now, some 26 years after “She Works Hard for the Money” first infiltrated our ears, Summer still is writing and recording. Yet her attempts to stay contemporary don’t quite measure up to what came before. What these new tunes do is make us re-recognize just how good the oldies are, and how many songs Summer has given us that combine groove, feeling, sadness, and love so exquisitely. In other words, she should be happy to sit back and ride that disco carpet until the end, because even today it’s easy to see that she’s created some of the best dance music America has to offer.
In particular, when the notes for “On the Radio” or “MacArthur Park” started, Thursday night’s crowd went wild, proving that some 30 years later, these songs feel as vital and crucial as they did when Jimmy Carter was in office. These songs matter, and we’re lucky to have their original life-giver around to belt ’em out, with a voice that still is an unmistakable combination of sexy and sad, petulant and soulful. And though it may be shocking to some, I’m actually relieved that Summer didn’t bust out a version of “Love to Love You Baby,” in all its orgasmic cooing glory. It would have been uncomfortable for all of us-Summer included. (I did play it when I got home, though.)
By night’s close, Summer’s music felt less like a live event and more like the perfect soundtrack to summertime. Here’s hoping that when she’s 80, she’ll still be belting out “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” and “Last Dance” for all the world to see. No doubt I will pay to see it again, bad knees, blue hair, hearing aids, and all-and I promise to still be up and dancing.