Review: Messina opens Pops season in style
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
“Pops is anything you want it to be.”
Matt Catingub proved the point last night, Sept. 14, as the Hawaii Pops opened its long-anticipated inaugural season with special guest Jo Dee Messina at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.
The only other time Messina has done a show in Hawaii, she performed on a military base. Her Waikiki debut was welcome, long overdue, and a great introduction to her classic hits and broader repertoire.
With an hour to work with, she didn’t do some of the songs fans would logically expect — “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” “You’re Not In Kansas Anymore” and her current single, “Peace Sign,” to name three — but did perform most of her biggest hits.
“I’m Alright” opened the show with familiar and popular material. “Lesson in Leaving,” “Stand Beside Me” and “Bye Bye” were also welcome touchstones for folks who’ve been enjoying her music since the 1990’s.
However, other choices she and Catingub made worked well. Messina told the crowd she is “not so known for love songs” — many of her biggest hits are about surviving bad relationships — so she has to “borrow” them from other artists. One of those “borrowed” songs last night was the late Etta James’ musical signature, “At Last.” Messina received a well-deserved round of applause for her take on it.
Much later in the show she backed into another classic, “I Will Always Love You,” explaining that although “there’s a reason I never recorded this one” Catingub thinks she does it very well — and, she added, it gives him an opportunity for a bigshowcase sax solo.
Be that as it may, Messina again proved up to the challenge of interpreting another artist’s hit. If Dolly Parton were not the song’s composer and the first person to have had a hit with it, “I Will Always Love You” could have been a country chart hit for Messina.
The darkest moment in the show in emotional terms came with one of her original compositions, “Say Goodbye to Superman.” Messina introduced it with a story about how her four-year-old son loves being with his father, but the song turned out to express the feelings of a woman who must tell her young son that his father, the “superman” in the boy’s life and her’s as well, is not coming home.
Messina said it took her a year to finish and was “the toughest song I ever had to write” — inspired at least in part by a relative’s marriage “that did not go well.” The song is an emotional horror story and it was a chilling interlude last night.
Messina also talked about the responsibility of overseeing her mother’s caregivers for days at a time when her siblings were away, and, on the brighter side of life, about her younger son and his enjoyment of simple things.
Messina and Catingub included a couple of songs from her upcoming album. “Peace Sign,” the first single out of the project wasn’t one of them, but she sang the song’s best lines a capella. “You put the F-U in ‘fun’… I’m just saying good bye, one finger shy of the peace sign.”
The final song on the set list was another surprise. Messina, Catingub and the Pops jumped from the Dolly Parton songbook to Journey for a straight rock rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’” that the Pops played at stadium concert decibel levels. L-O-U-D it was, but Messina made that song a personal statement as well.
“Don’t Stop Believin'” would have been a fine finale, but Messina came back to make a welcome confession: She and Catingub had skipped a song they’d planned to do. Call it an encore, call it a “hana hou,” Messina’s animated delivery of her 2005 Billboard Country chart-topper, “My Give a Damn’s Busted,” brought the show full circle and wrapped things up on a rousing note.
Catingub and the Pops opened the program with an similarly diverse program. Catingub’s “anything you want it be” included selections by the Average White Band, James Taylor and Tommy Dorsey. As in his days with the old Honolulu Symphony, Catingub contributed to the program as bandleader, pianist, saxophonist and pianist.
And there was more. Amy Hanaiali‘i — looking fabulous in a snug black gown and showing off lots of leg — joined Catingub and the Pops for the final numbers before intermission. Time was, back in the late ‘90s, when Amy Hanaiali‘i was known as an advocate of Hawaiian falsetto singing and its tradition of emphasizing the ha‘i (break) between a singer’s lower and upper vocal registers.
Her choices last night were all smooth mainstream pop — “Chain of Fools,” “Since I Fell for You” and “Smooth,” the latter sung as a duet with Catingub. All three were beautifully done. Mainstream American audiences outside Hawaii have found it easier in years past to pronounce Gilliom, her surname, than Hanaiali‘i, her middle name, but by any name she is a polished mainstream pop artist that Hawaii can be proud to claim.
The venue — officially the “home” of Hawaii Pops — is relatively new one for concerts. The variety of seating — tables for 10 up front, cocktail tables next and traditional concert-style seating after that — is reminiscent of the old days when the Honolulu Symphony opened the season at the Waikiki Shell and the “pool” down was filled with long tables for premium ticket buyers.
The set-up last night also included two dance floors, and there was a large arena-size screen on each side of the stage so that even folks in the last row of the “cheap seats” had a close up view of the action.
Another note: Hawai‘i Convention Center parking is $10; $3 more than the usual rate at Blaisdell Center, and $2 more than Marks Garage across from Hawaii Theatre.
The Hawaii Pops season continues when Sheena Easton, Kristina Souza, Nathan Aweau and Cathy Foy-Mahi join Catingub for “The Songs Of Bond… James Bond” on Oct. 20.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.