Thirty years in the music business hasn’t slowed down Olivia-Newton John as she wowed her fans in Genting last week
The Arena of Stars in Genting was the place to be last Sunday night, at least for hopelessly devoted fans of pop icon Olivia-Newton John.
It was, after all, her first concert in Malaysia (a one-night-only concert at that) throughout her illustrious 30-year career in which she not only topped country and pop music charts but also the box office.
The anticipation was obvious and eager fans were raring for the show to start. A section of the crowd started clapping, cheering and calling out to their Australian idol several minutes before the show.
And, when the lights finally went down at 8.30pm, screams were heard. Well, at least from certain portions of the Arena - but more on that later.
Newton-John kicked off the night with her number one-hit Have You Never Been Mellow, followed by A Little More Love and Stronger Than Before. At 59, Newton-John still had it - she had aged but she was still stunning (betcha male fans who grew up infatuated with her were reliving some moments), her sweet and distinctive vocals were almost perfect (she seemed to struggle a little on the high notes at first) and her charm was overflowing.
After briefly addressing the crowd, she dived right into three songs from her movie Xanadu, which she confessed was her favourite movie because she got to dance with Gene Kelly. She sang the title track, Magic and Suddenly, all the requisite songs fans longed for.
While it was clear the audience appreciated her singing, it was frustrating (for me and surely for the singer) that there was close to no response from the 4,000-odd crowd who turned up.
While there were a handful (ok maybe slightly more than a handful) of screaming and squealing fans who were moving to her songs and singing along, the audience was, for the most part, lifeless.
There were however some signs of life when Newton-John broke into a medley of her country hits - Let Me Be There, Please Mr Please, Jolene and If You Love Me Let Me Know.
Olivia A surprise for the night was her rendition of cult classic Physical, the most popular single of her career. Instead of the upbeat version everyone was familiar with, she chose to do an accoustic/bossa nova version which, though unexpected, was very nicely done.
The response from the crowd must have encouraged Newton-John, because after that her performance shot up several notches too. She seemed to come alive on stage and her vocals warmed up - those freakishly high notes were, once again, attainable.
She continued with Don’t Stop Believing and Love is Letting Go of Fear.
The singer alluded to her battle with breast cancer before introducing her next number. “In 1992, as many of you know, I went through breast cancer. I am absolutely fine now,” she says, acknowledging the applause from the crowd, “But, I know I am only one of many millions of women who are going through it and I am very lucky and thankful to be here. I wrote this next song when I was not sure if I was going to get through it - and then one day I decided that I was not going to give in to it.”
She then broke into three songs - Not Gonna Give In to It, Sam and Cry Me A River (as a tribute to Julia London) before introducing her band members.
After graciously accepting three bouquets of flowers from members of the audience, Newton-John asked the crowd, “Are you ready to rock ‘n’ roll?” She performed a rock ‘n’ roll medley (comprising Rumour/Make a Move On Me/Totally Hot/Deeper Than The Night/Twist of Fate) before introducing her first new track of the night - the title track of her new album Grace and Gratitude. Though fans came to listen to her classic hits, Newton-John won them over with her new song, which reflected a more mature Olivia. Melodic and moving, it captured in music the difficulties she had been through in the past decade or so.
After a dose of the present, she swiftly went back to what was unmistakably the highlight for many that night. She donned a leather jacket and the crowd immediately knew what was coming. Newton-John played along.
“Making this movie,” she teased, “Was really kind of a drag because I had to dance with John Travolta, I had to sing with John Travolta and, I had to kiss John Travolta.”
With that, the two big screens up front showed scenes from the 1978 film Grease and she went right into four hits from the movie You’re The One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted To You, Summer Nights and We Go Together in which she and her three back-up singers did a great job - they seemed to be having their own little party on stage.
You’d think this would finally be enough to get the crowd on their feet (especially since the singer herself urged them to dance along). Sigh. No such luck. It was really quite inexplicable. Isn’t it only logical that if people were willing to pay an exorbitant RM480 to sit up front, they’d at least enjoy the concert and move a little, scream a little, clap a little louder and encourage their idol a bit?
Don’t get me wrong. There were those who sang passionately and enthusiastically along, fans who did shake and sway and dance in their seats. Fans who were truly euphoric to finally see their idol, to thank her for inspiring them and entertaining them through the years. The only problem was these fans were probably seated way at the back.
Appreciate her though, everyone did. As at the end of the night, Newton-John received two well-deserved standing ovations for her encores: I Honestly Love You and a new track, Instrument of Peace. It was a fulfilling two-hour concert. Newton-John sang close to 30 of her hits and the fans left the Arena still hopelessly devoted.