Pat Benatar looked fantastic last night at Annette Strauss Square at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. She took the stage in all black leggings, tunic, and booties. Her long red hair hung down in big curls with a thick fringe and oversize hoop earrings swung from her ears. At sixty years old, she still looks every bit the early MTV-era rock star that she is (was).
"We have a long list tonight," she said, referring to the set list taped to the stage. "We’re going to play them all and see which of us lasts." No one knew just how ironic that seemingly innocuous comment would be until the end of the show.
Benatar sounded incredible as she sang all of the hits from her glory days, including "Invincible," "Sex as a Weapon," "Promises in the Dark," "In the Heat of the Night," "We Belong," "Hell is for Children," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "Love is a Battlefield."
She was so sweet and so sincere as she chatted with her adoring audience. All of her ’80s dance moves are still fully intact. In fact, the entire evening was as if she was plucked from her heyday and dropped into 2013.
It all read more charming and genteel than one would expect from a rock star. Her husband and guitarist, Neil Giraldo, referred to her as Patricia onstage and the two sat down on stools at one point saying, "This is when we sit down because we’re old."
The audience, too, was an older crowd, some of whom looked as if they were still living in the eighties. One couple near the front of the seated section bopped along to every word, the woman wearing a tight mini with a pastel Aztec pattern and her escort, a tour t-shirt.
At one point in the show a crowd gathered in front of the stage (less mosh pit and more a sample day at Costco), one woman in a visor another in an aqua-colored tee and mom jeans. Much of the crowd sang along to every word, their own glory days dancing in their eyes as they fist pound the air and did the "step together clap" dance move with the signature bounce.
One woman held up a sign and giggled, too embarrassed to hold it for more than a second. Benatar graciously shook hands with the fans pressed against the stage with LPs and tickets and tees in hand, pleading for autographs. It’s hard to decide if it’s sweet or sad. There’s fine line between happy nostalgia and desperation.
Benatar told the crowd that she and Giraldo (known back in the day as Spider) just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary and you realized how remarkable that is, considering her career and how celeb couples don’t have the best track record.
But Benatar and her husband were adorable on stage. She touched him on the shoulder when he played guitar and he grinned at her from behind the piano. He threw guitar picks into the crowd and people scrambled to grab them. It all felt one part nostalgic and one part sad.
These were rockers in their day and now, watching Giraldo is kind of like watching your adorable grandpa if your grandpa could rip it up on an electric guitar. The man can play and, too, she can sing as deeply, gravely, and heartfelt as ever. But they are aging like the rest of us and somehow you wish they still had their edge.
That edge, I’m afraid, is long gone. That became abundantly clear as Benatar told the story of their video for "You Better Run." It was the second video ever played on MTV back in 1981 and her husband, she said, is the first guitarist to ever play on MTV. She told it not with verve but with humor, recognizing how archaic it sounded. Better to be self-aware, it seems.
It was surreal really. It sounded like a rock concert; it felt like a folk concert. The venue itself is fantastic, an outdoor stage on the side of the AT&T Performing Arts Center with rows of assigned seating as well as a lawn for picnicking. The music was great. But the whole thing seemed a little bit, well, silly.
The show was billed as Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo. Even that seems sappy sweet. It was her show, always has been. There’s something lovely about her sharing the billing with him in his cuffed jeans and black shoes. He really was too cute. But somehow I don’t think that’s what he was going for.
"It’s been almost 35 years," he said to the crowd. "Thanks for taking the ride with us. We plan to go for another 35. You want to come along?" The crowd roared and he smiled and for a second it was thirty years ago all over again.
"You love this song. I love this song. I guarantee you’ve sung it in karaoke at least once," Benatar said as a way of introducing "We Belong to the Night."
It’s a little bit of a mind bend really. Check out their website and Benatar and Giraldo still look like serious rock stars. But onstage, they read as softened, almost like a cover band doing its own music. It makes one who went to high school in the ’80s a little misty. This is what it’s come to? I guess it’s better that they should age gracefully. Right?
Are there still ’80s rock stars that are still as hot, sexy, and edgy as ever onstage? Maybe not.
At the end of the show, Giraldo wailed on the guitar and she patted him sweetly on the arm. Maybe it’s his sweet goofy grin or maybe it’s how darling the two are together, but despite his damn fine guitar skills, it’s hard to take the poor guy too seriously. She doesn’t seem like she takes him seriously either, humoring him as he plays on longer than is planned, by the look on her face.
And at the stroke of 8:30 p.m., they said goodnight. A short encore followed. But it was an early night. "Be good to one another. Be sweet to your children. Please don’t drink and drive ever, and please come see us again," Benatar said as she exited the stage a final time.
As we pulled out of the parking lot at 9 p.m. sharp, we saw the tour bus pull out as well. I’m guessing Benatar and Giraldo were already in their pajamas, sharing an herbal tea. It’s hard not to miss the old days. But, I suppose, we should all be so lucky to be aging rock stars like them.
Note: Strauss Square allows hard or soft-sided colors that are 16" x 16" or smaller; chairs with legs that do not exceed 4"; blankets; food; and beverages. But they do not allow pets, strollers, smoking, weapons, umbrellas, bags or coolers over 16" x 16", or laser pointers.
If you have assigned seating, of course, you don’t need chairs or blankets (and even a picnic basket is a little overcomplicated in the surprisingly comfy chairs on the lawn).