Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on Monday
21st January 2019
It’s the burning question on everyone’s lips at the minute. When has it gone beyond the point of wishing people a Happy New Year? We’re still good, folks, because if Ronnie Spector & The Ronettes can play Sleigh Ride at the arse end of January and wish us all a Happy New Year once it’s done, that’s still time enough. The song gave The Ronettes their first top 40 hit in fifty years, so who can blame Ronnie for extending that Christmas spirit a little bit more in the National Concert Hall on a wet Monday in January?
His name remains unspoken tonight – as well it should considering her ex-husband’s appalling treatment of the singer until their separation in ‘72 – but Phil Spector’s shadow looms over proceedings from the start and throughout, as her five-strong band emerge to the strains of Ben E. King and the announcer gives us “The Rose of Spanish Harlem: Ronnie Spector…and the Ronettes”. But Ronnie came through Spector’s years of psychological and emotional abuse, and as much as their songs carry his stamp, it was the trio of Ronnie, her older sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra, who breathed life into them and seared them into the fabric of popular culture.
Ronnie is the only original member still flying the flag (Estelle died in 2009, eulogised through tonight’s rendition of How Can You Mend a Broken Heart), and her current show is a guided tour of the band’s career told through story, song and video, as clips of interviews and performances play on a large screen above the band, peppered between numbers with commentary from Ronnie.
There’s some archive footage of the singer at 18, softly spoken and starting out, a different person to the singer that regales us tonight. The Ronettes, dancing in unison at the side of the stage, flank her as she theatrically narrates their origin story, hustling their first gig, to a lounge-y backing from the band. It becomes Ray Charles’ Baby What’d I Say, and despite the energetic performance, drum solo and false ending to boot, a bit of call and response doesn’t catch fire.
Taking a seat every now and again to chat with the audience, trademark bouffant as distinct as ever, Ronnie namechecks those who have influenced her, and those who she herself has influenced, from The Dave Clark Five to Johnny Thunders, The Students to Amy Winehouse. Each gets The Ronettes treatment, with an honourable mention to The Stones – Keef in particular – and a fine take on I’d Much Rather Be With The Girls.
Then there are the indelible classics – Baby, I Love You, Walking In The Rain, Be My Baby (“1963…I loved it then. I still love it now“), and a heart-breaking Don’t Worry Baby (a follow-up that an awe-struck Brian Wilson “wrote just for me“). Six decades later…fifty-five years since Ronnie, Estelle, and Nedra first crossed the pond and dazzled London, the songs continue to sparkle. It’s not so much a gig in the standard sense, as much as an audio-visual performance piece, but with their history, the personalities that inhabited their orbit, and those songs, Ronnie Spector outlines The Ronettes contribution to, and definition of, some of the timeless moments of twentieth century music.