Olivia Newton-John

September 7, 2001
Chastain Park Amphitheater, Atlanta

 

Olivia Newton-John

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This was just another Friday night that consisted of me going out to see some live music. I didn’t take special note that it was an artist that had been a big part of my childhood. It wasn’t until the next Tuesday that I could really understand the impact that this potentially embarrassing concert would have on me.  About a zillion years ago and in a different world, I was a kid in middle South Carolina hearing Olivia Newton-John tunes on the AM radio of my dad’s pickup truck. This was during her country days. Later, as a helplessly nerdy kid, I watched Grease over and over on cable TV. We didn’t have much else to do anyway! I even paid to see Xanadu in the theaters, for God’s sake!  As a full-grown music nerd now, I had to see Olivia on her first full-blown American tour in nearly two decades. You see, I’ve got this thing for seeing every artist from my youth at least once. I didn’t think this would be any more than another slightly disappointing trip down memory lane. Strangely, her show at the surprisingly full Chastain Park was more like actual time traveling than lame nostalgia. I felt good to be there. Decked out in shimmery gold, she spun through more hits than anyone may care to remember. Early in the set, her early feel good country tunes came. “Let Me Be There,” “Please Mr. Please” and “If You Love Me, Let Me Know” made me feel five years old again. I felt safe within ears reach of these ultimately trite, silly songs. They took me back to the days when being with my family was everything and all that was ever needed. Later, songs like “Xanadu,” “Magic” and “A Little More Love” reconnected me to childhood friends who helped me through difficult times as that family began to splinter. I haven’t seen those friends in ages, but we were together for a little while inside the songs on that evening. I must say that Olivia’s sincerity was almost overwhelming at times. She can’t be that nice and (honestly) na´ve. During her “environmental medley” which featured well-intentioned but hopelessly pie-in-the-sky songs about the rain forests and protecting dolphins, I felt traces of my pre-cynical self buried deep down starting to stir. I may have been smirking outside, but I could feel my wish that people would actually care smoldering underneath. It was almost disconcerting.

 

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Not surprisingly, the Grease section of the show brought the house down even more than her biggest hit “Physical.” During the movie musical songs, she donned the black leather jacket that she wore as Sandy in the film and one of her backup singers did the same to fill in for John Travolta. “You’re The One That I Want” was a moment of pure celebration. Wait, let me make that two moments of celebration. The crowd was so overtly excited and ecstatic during this duet that they actually played the song twice in its entirety in an attempt to satisfy the crowd. “Hopelessly Devoted To You” was pristine and (of course) “Summer Nights” was another massive sing-a-long. Her final encore took her all the way back to the beginning of her career. The syrupy “I Honestly Love You” was actually moving to hear as young parents and their Grease fan kids stood together and made their own future family memories. I was almost disgusted with myself for feeling warm and fuzzy over all of this. What was it in this music that can do that to a negative thinking, pessimistic critic such as myself? Whatever it was, it felt good. Especially reflecting back on it after the events of the following Tuesday. I spent my last Friday of the old world reconnecting with the positive parts of my youth. Now that the chasm between now and then is so much wider, I can only hope that the idealistic and even the trivial music of my past will continue to be a bridge I can cross when I desperately need to feel that safe place that I knew as a very small child. “Have You Never Been Mellow?”  Hmm… maybe I have now. It’s nice.

 (Chris McKay/concertshots.com)

 

Olivia Newton-John Set List (9-7-01):

1. Gaia Chant

2. Trust Yourself

3. Deeper Than The Night

4. Let Me Be There

5. Jolene

6. If You Love Me, Let Me Know

7. Please Mr. Please

8. Xanadu

9. Magic

10. Suddenly

11. A Little More Love

12. Physical

13. Sam

14. Somewhere Over The Rainbow

15. Come On Over

16. Don't Stop Believing

17. Not Gonna Give In To It

18. Don't Cut Me Down

19. The Promise (The Dolphin Song)

20. Have You Never Been Mellow?

21. You're The One That I Want

22. Hopelessly Devoted To You

23. Summer Nights

ENCORE:

24. Don't Cry For Me Argentina

25. I Honestly Love You

 

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