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[whitespace] Pat Benatar
Photograph by Dennis Keeley

Her Best Shot

Without all the fanfare, Pat Benetar made just as much impact as Madonna at her Mountain Winery show

By Sarah Quelland

ONLY DAYS after Madonna's painstakingly choreographed Drowned World production touched down in the Oakland Arena, another beloved musical heroine came to town with a significantly less splashy show.

In stark contrast to Madonna's theatrical barrage, at her Sept. 10 Mountain Winery show, Pat Benatar offered no costume changes, no elaborate sets, no backup singers and no model-perfect dancers. The strength of Benatar's show rested exclusively on her voice, her band and her songs.

In black heels, black flare pants, a body-hugging black sleeveless shirt and a fitted black jacket, Benatar seduced the crowd, eliciting roars of approval with every wave.

By sharpening and redefining her sound over the years, Benatar's own material (which dates back to 1979) has gracefully withstood the test of time and taken on an increasingly sophisticated sense of depth and maturity that makes it still sound fresh today.

Anyone harboring notions that Benatar's grown soft over the years can cast them aside. At Monday's show, she proved she hasn't lost those cutting-edge hard rock sensibilities that made her so appealing in the '80s. Her raspy voice--like rose petals falling on sandpaper--delivered each song with confidence and conviction.

An anomaly in the music industry, Benatar doesn't wallow in scandal. She's been married to her guitarist, producer and collaborator Neil Giraldo for almost 20 years, and the couple has two daughters. An intrinsic part of Benatar's career, Giraldo has become as much of an attraction as Benatar herself. With bleach-blond hair, a white wifebeater and tight pinstripe highwaters, Giraldo looked like a cool hipster, good-naturedly entertaining the crowd with calls to share some of the wine-and-cheese bounty from the preconcert tailgate parties (apparently Coors Light and Chee-tos don't cut it with this post-Boomer crowd).

"I hope you saved some for Big Daddy," he announced, "cuz I'm starving."

Benatar presented a mix of familiar hits and newer material, kicking off the night with "We Live for Love," "Shadows of the Night," the title track to the forthcoming album Girl (which Benatar revealed was half-finished and should be released early next year), and a sped-up version of "We Belong" before indulging in an unappetizing bit of nepotism.

In an otherwise classy show, Benatar made a tacky misstep by giving her aspiring daughter's bubble gum pop trio, Glo, time in the spotlight. In its three-song set, the very average trio awkwardly mimicked the sexy synchronized dance routines of Britney and Co. Feeling generous, the audience, many of which probably have children of their own, offered supportive applause.

Benatar returned, asking Giraldo, "What are you feeding those girls? It's not comin' from my side." In response, he muttered some a fatherly comment under his breath about needing to get his daughter some less skimpy clothes.

Gravity's Rainbow

Carefully balanced by the nostalgia tunes, the real standouts of the night came in an acoustic interlude during which Benatar and Giraldo played a sweet, breathy song from 1993's Gravity's Rainbow titled "Every Time I Fall Back," a lovely selection they said they'd never performed live before. A quieter, more wistful, reworked acoustic version of "Love Is a Battlefield" followed, with Benatar's voice sounding as rough as Melissa Etheridge's.

When the band rejoined them, Benatar showcased the red-hot title track from her acclaimed 1991 blues album True Love.

With the finale closing in, Benatar groaned. "This next song that we're gonna do, I have been singin' for longer than I want to think about. And," she said with a grimace, "I'm sick of it too." The audience went wild as she started belting out the tough-talking intro to "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

Benatar humored her fans by making them sing the parts she couldn't stomach anymore: "Before I put another notch in my lipstick case/You better make sure you put me in my place."

The show closed with the energizing "All Fired Up" and Benatar--who spent much of the night rocking out on an air guitar--raking her fingers down the strings of Giraldo's real guitar.

In the '80s, Benatar and Madonna were both music and fashion icons who pushed boundaries and created new roles for women. While Madonna's media savvy and gift for reinvention have kept her in the limelight continuously, Benatar shied away from the attention choosing to put her family before her career.

At the Winery, with her husband onstage, her daughter in the wings and an audience full of admirers, Benatar carried herself with the unaffected dignity afforded by genuine happiness and a real sense of security. It's enough to make one wonder who's living the better life.

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Web extra to the September 13-19, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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