By Derek May:
I’ve often said that generally speaking, people can be classified as either music lovers or movie lovers depending on how rabidly obsessed they are about each. Sure, everyone enjoys both, but if you were in, say, a trivia contest for one or the other, which would excel at? For me, it’s always been film, but if there’s one genre of music that serves as an exception it’s the 1980s. I may have been in elementary school throughout the decade, but I remember it like it was yesterday. And my favorite movies, fashion, and, yes, music all come from that era.
I’m currently engaged, however, to someone who leans to the music side, and thus I’ve attended more concerts in the past 5 years than I have in the previous 35. And to my delight, though she sometimes grits her teeth, she’s accompanied me to witness some of my 80s icons live such as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and ZZ Top.
But one I’d always wanted to see and never had the chance was the legendary Heartbreaker herself, Pat Benatar. Well, Wednesday night I finally got my chance!
What made this one extra special was that it was the 40th Anniversary Tour celebrating the creative collaboration between Benatar and her husband, guitarist and producer Neil Giraldo. While Benatar is and always has been the clear star of the show, it was a nice tribute to split the marquee. What this meant was a little more interaction between the pair onstage, exchanging a few stories, quips, and moments of PDA throughout the show. It was clear from the latter that as these two celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary this year, they remain as devotedly in love as ever.
It’s that more than anything else that struck me so profoundly as I enjoyed the performance. The entertainment business is known as a relationship killer, perhaps even more so when the lovers are lopsided in terms of fame. And with Benatar firmly cemented as one of the greatest rockers (female or otherwise) of all time and still thrills audiences and critics wherever she goes, her marriage to a man certainly respected in his own right but decidedly further removed from the limelight is a case study in the unbreakable bonds of love. Perhaps it’s their well-documented mutual respect for each other and what each brings to the table. Perhaps it’s the freedom they talked about giving each other to pursue their own interests, whether it be non-stop studio time for Giraldo as he continues to craft tunes for a variety of artists or Benatar’s devotion to her children . . . and now grandchildren. Whatever it is, it’s working, and they might well be the standard by which showbiz couple should be measured.
As for the music itself, the quartet explored a wide range of songs throughout the tight set (which included no opening band or intermission). They knocked out all the usual hits, including one of my all-time favorite songs, “Invincible,” but also worked in a few lesser-knowns and one new piece from the upcoming musical Benatar and Giraldo are currently writing. There were a few sidebars on several songs, such as a commentary before “Hell is For Children” about how they hope for a day when they never to have to sing that song about child abuse ever again.
At 66, Benatar’s speaking voice may be a touch raspier, but once she digs in, time seems to have had no effect. Her voice lilted and bellowed with the same power and silky smoothness she’s always had, and after nearly half a century, some of the songs feel as clear as if coming straight off the CD. For his part, Giraldo knocked me out with his incredible guitar mastery. I gotta admit that I’ve slowly come to appreciate just how different it is watching and hearing an instrumentalist live. Of course I knew many of the riffs by heart, but seeing Giraldo work in person made me cognizant of just how special he is. I would place him in the top tier of the great axe players of our time, especially when he went off solo, having a grand ole time and delighting even the other members onstage with his exuberance and talent.
All in all, whether you’ve seen Pat Benatar in concert before or not, this is a lovely show to catch if it passes through a town near you. While it may not be as equitable as the billing purports, it’s still beautiful to see this couple up there working hand in hand and allowing each to shine in their own right, and that might be all you need to know about them as a duo. While I might have preferred a few more tales, you can’t argue with the time spent on such rollicking, classic tunes. And if you want to know more, do like I did and pick up a hand-signed copy of Benatar’s autobiography (a fun inclusion at the merch table).
A show 40 years in the making, this pair of paramours is still standing strong on the battlefield of love. Whether you come for the musical extravaganza or to see the power of passion enduring, Benatar and Giraldo will certainly hit you with their best shot!